'Fanciful' etymologies

thompson at handel.jlc.net thompson at handel.jlc.net
Fri May 24 02:05:04 UTC 1996

Re Prof. von Simson's recent posting:

It is certainly interesting to see the use of "fanciful etymologies" in
Buddhist, non-Sanskrit contexts, as well as, apparently, a more or less
historical sense of language change that is uncommon in Sanskrit and Vedic
contexts.  The polemical use of etymology against Brahmans is also
noteworthy since polemical motives played a significant role in Vedic
word-play as well.

The hymn AV 10.2 comes to mind.  This interesting hymn, deeply involved in
"PuruSa mysticism", catalogues human body parts, makes special use of
brahmodya interrogation-and-response sequences as a stylistic device, and
resorts to puns in two key places.  The hymn's essential pun asserts that
púruSa [man] is the "citadel [púr] of bráhman", i.e., the cosmic Brahman
resides in man [i.e., Atman = brahman].  It furthermore insists that "this
bráhman is another nákSatram, bráhman is called real [sát] kSatram." The
pun here analysizes nákSatram as na-kSatram, i.e., as "non-kSatram."  It
would seem clear that a Brahman is here polemicizing against kSatriyas.
Real power, it is  claimed, dwells within Brahmans.

It is nice to see, in the Buddhist sources cited by Prof. von Simson, that
the kSatriyas were resourceful enough to respond to the Brahmans "in kind."

George Thompson

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