'Fanciful' etymologies (was re. dating)

Madhav Deshpande mmdesh at umich.edu
Mon May 20 21:26:32 UTC 1996

	In some of the previous messages, there was a useful discussion of
whether the use of the term 'etymology' is causing some of our confusion. 
Obviously, in terms of what we normally consider etymology in the strict
sense of the word, the fanciful explanations do not provide us
etymologies.  However, what does the strict etymology of the word bhik.su
provide us with:  ya.h bhik.sate sa bhik.su.h.  This would be perfectly
Paninian bhik.s+u (cf. rule: sanaa"samsabhik.sa u.h).  However, this
offers the most pedestrian value to the Buddhist: everybody who begs for
alms is a bhik.su.  The Buddhist tradition would like to see some higher
values expressed as the core-values for monkhood.  Those higher core
values are expressed through the traditional Buddhist nirvacanas of the
word bhik.su such as bhinnakle"sa or samsaare bhayam iik.sate.  The urge
to extract these core-values by playing with the phonology of the word is
as old as Yaaska's Nirukta.  This urge is, in my opinion, ultimately
linked with the belief that a word/name is linked to an object on the
basis of some essential property which is conveyed by that word. 
[Kaatyaayana provides the first clear formulation of this notion in
describing the meaning of the affix -tva : yasya hi gu.nasya bhaavaat
dravye "sabdanive"sas tasyaabhidhaane tva-talau] While Yaaska's nirvacanas
express this through his use of 'kasmaat', the later philosophers use
terms like "sakyataavacchedaka or prav.rttinimitta :  the property or
characteristic which motivates the use of a given word with reference to a
given object.  If one is not particularly thrilled with the pedestrian
values which most accurate etymologies provide, one was forced to come up
with creative ways to extract one's higher values from the sounds of the
same word.  This probably made the use of a given word seem even more
appropriate.  It is in this sense, that the Buddhist nirvacanas of bhik.su
as bhinnakle"sa or samsaare bhayam iik.sate provide us a better
understanding of what the Buddhists are trying to convey.  An ideal
bhik.su should rather be bhinnakle"sa etc., than a mere agent of
the action of begging as Panini would have it.
	A very useful distinction in terminology is made in Sanskrit texts
which is of some value in this connection.  The term vyutpatti-nimitta is
contrasted with the term prav.rttinimitta.  The first term refers to the
'strict etymological meaning' while the second term refers to the factors
which guide the actual use of an expression.  For example, we are told
that the word gau.h (cow/bull) is derived from the root gam 'to go' by
adding the agentive affix 'o'.  However, this explanation offers us only
the vyutpattinimitta 'the etymological meaning', and does not tell us how
the word is used.  For that, we must move on to the prav.rttinimitta of
the word.  If we are glued to the vyutpattinimitta alone, all those who go
will be referred to by the word gau.h, and a cow that is sitting down will
not be a gau.h.  The 'fanciful' nirvacanas are often deliberate ways of
overtly marking the intended prav.rttinimitta in a specific context. 

	Madhav Deshpande 

On Mon, 20 May 1996 jonathan.silk at wmich.edu wrote:

> I agree, of course (after all, he was my teacher!) with Madhav on the value
> of "folk etymology."  On the other hand, I think he does not mean to propose
> that we take, for example, _bhinnakle"sa_, as a helpful etymology of bhik.su. 
> This is a standard "explanation" of the term, but does it really deserve more
> credit than the historical etymology?  -- Or perhaps I have misunderstood the
> point (as so often happens ;-)).
> jonathan

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list