etymology of karN

Dominique.Thillaud thillaud at UNICE.FR
Sun Mar 15 10:12:26 UTC 1998

S. Palaniappan asked :
>Does the Sanskrit word "karN" as in {karNayati} , to pierce , bore  or karNi
>meaning the act of splitting , breaking through have a widely accepted IE

        Mayrhofer (KEWA) gives just an entry "karNa" (ear, loop) with the
comment (I translate from German for Indian readers):
        "As the basic meaning is probably "Spitze, Herausragendes" (point,
up rising), the word is perhaps from *qol-no-s, see Lituanian "kalnas"
(mountain); the meaning being very near of Greek "kolophOn", (palatalized)
Russian "celo" (point)."
        He rejects a metathesis from *kel-eu- (to hear) > zRNoti.

        My point of view:
        Semantically, it seems we have a general meaning "prominent,
protuberant": Russian "celo" is also "front" and Greek words give related
meanings: "kolophOn" (top, achievement); "keleontes" (vertical weaving
loom's uprights). But the meaning "to pierce" is in other words: "kolaptO"
(to gash, to peck, to stake out); "kolios", "keleus" (woodpecker).
Actually, a metaphor "to pierce"/"to rise up" is known by the French
"percer" which can be used for "to become famous" for a man, or "to come
up" for a plant.
        Phonetically there is a difficulty in Greek with the initial stop,
the forms excluding a labiovalar ("po", "te" expected); an evolution *qo >
Greek ko is just known in the case of a dissimilation by "u": boukolos <
*gvou-qolos (cattleman, see gocaraH) against hippopolos (horseman).
Possibly, we can imagine a *q(near L) > Gr. k as in *wLqos (vRka) > Gr.
lukos (the L in *qL becoming normally "ol" in Greek), but there are other
explanations of the difficult word "lukos". Moreover, we don't have never
*qe > Gr. ke. Perhaps the easier way would be to suppose a root *kel-,
fitting well for the meaning with Latin "celeber" (famous), and to explain
karN (*zarN expected) by an labialization induced from "l" (the same thing
occuring in Lituanian)???
        Mythologically, that's easy to understand the hero's name karNa as
"famous, out of the common": eldest son of kuntI, despite his obscure birth
he is supposed becoming even better than arjuna. The reference to the
earrings could be a secondary motivation of the name (his Greek parallel
Glaukos bears just a golden plate).

        Hoping to help,

Dominique THILLAUD
Universite' de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, France

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