'Fanciful' etymologies (was re. dating)

Madhav Deshpande mmdesh at umich.edu
Mon May 20 14:35:02 UTC 1996

	While I agree with Dominik that new meanings derived from 
"fanciful" etymologies are not "inherent" in those words, I think he is 
using the word "historical" in a rather limited way.  And, yes, even 
historically useful philological information can be extracted from the 
so-called "fanciful" etymologies.  Consider for example the Upanishadic 
etymology of 'puruza' from 'puri .sete' (puri.saya, puri+.s).  While on 
the one hand, this etymology is extracting a new meaning from the word, 
the break-down of 'puruza' as 'puri+.sa' also hints at the historically 
important factor of Sanskrit/Prakrit diaglossia, such that most Prakrits 
known to us have the word given as 'purisa', 'puri.s', 'puli.sa' etc.  A 
great deal of historically significant philological information can be 
extracted from the fanciful etymologies in the Brahmanas and in the 
Prakrit texts.  It is the historically valid phonology of the word 
'arihanta' in Prakrit which makes its reanalysis as 'ari-hanta' 
possible.  Another historically significant dimension of these latter-day 
etymologies is that they take us closer to the meaning intended by their 
users at a given time.  The claims of our modern "historically and 
philologically justified etymology" cannot be perceived as overriding the 
value of the etymology given by a text, when we are interpreting that text.
	Madhav Deshpande

On Mon, 20 May 1996, Dominik Wujastyk wrote:

> On Mon, 20 May 1996, Swami Gitananda wrote:
> [...]
> > It seems to me they are rather creative ways of unfolding meanings
> > inherent in a term. [...]
> Well, I agree with everything up to the word "inherent".  The kind of
> non-historical reflections on the meanings of words that we are discussing
> may be extremely interesting and revealing, etc., etc.  But that doesn't
> alter the fact that they are not historically correct.
> To say, for example, that a "person" is so called because in the modern
> consumerist world everyone has his or her "purse-on" in order to buy more
> consumer products may be useful in the context of a Marxist sermon.  But
> what we learn from this has everything to do with the views of the person
> giving the sermon, and nothing to do with historical philology.  The
> "sermonic"  meaning is not "inherent" in the word "person" in any
> historically meaningful way, but rather in a symbolic and allusive way,
> generated in present time from the free associative reflections of the
> speaker.
> Dominik
> --
> Dominik Wujastyk               Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine
>                                      183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, England
> email: d.wujastyk at ucl.ac.uk                              FAX: 44 171 611 8545

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