'Fanciful' etymologies

g.v.simson at easteur-orient.uio.no g.v.simson at easteur-orient.uio.no
Wed May 22 12:24:36 UTC 1996

George Thompson wrote:
> It has become clear that we are talking about
>several different things here.  I have found Houben's distinction between
>"hermeneutic etymologies" and "linguistic (/historical) etymologies"
>particularly helpful.
>Since no one has responded to my claim that the so-called "fanciful
>etymologies" are related to puns [particularly in the RV], ...

Among the "hermeneutical etymologies" there are certainly different
varieties, from the serious interpretations of vedic words in the Brahmanas
or of divine names in Hinduism (different attempts to explain Ziva's name
Bhairava in Kashmir Zivaism are extensively discussed by Kahrs in his
dissertation) to more humorous uses of etymologies for ideological and
polemical purposes. Some nice examples of the latter kind can be found in
the Agga~n~nasutta (DIghanikAya 27) of the Pali canon, where  etymologies
based on prakrit and not on sanskrit are used to defend the Buddhist view
of society against the claims of the Brahmans. Interesting is also the
historical perspective of the author, who asserts that some idiomatical
expressions are no longer understood today but can be explained on the
basis of the (mythical) history of mankind. The polemical etymologies of
expressions designating the brahmans contain a kind of concise cultural
history and culminate in the explanation of the term ajjhAyaka as
designating those "who no longer meditate": na jhAyantIti (instead of the
'correct' derivation from sanskrit adhyAyaka, "reader", "one who is engaged
in studying"). Here we meet a curious mixture of "historical" and
"fanciful" etymologies whose seriousness - certainly not in all, but in
some cases - remains somewhat doubtful. More about this in my article
        "Etymologie als Mittel ideologischer Auseinandersetzung:
Bemerkungen zum Aggannasutta
        des Dighanikaya", in: P. Kosta (ed.), Studia Indogermanica et
Slavica. Festgabe fuer Werner
        Thomas. Muenchen, 1988, p. 87-98.
As this volume is not easily available, I can send a copy of the article to
those who are interested (and read German!) on request.
See also: Richard Gombrich, "Why is a khattiya called a khattiya? The
Agganna Sutta revisited", in: Journal of the Pali Text Society 17 (1992),
p. 213 f.
      Georg v. Simson

Professor Georg von Simson
University of Oslo
Department of East European and Oriental Studies
Box 1030, Blindern
0315 Oslo, Norway

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