Etymology of Cerebrum

Ven. Tantra troyoga at YAHOO.COM
Wed Mar 15 06:33:24 UTC 2000

I would like to thank those of the Indologist List who
came forward in response to my query on the deep
etymology of Cerebrum. Though a student, I do not have
access to a proper research library and so am
therefore very grateful for the assistance of learned

If I am not mistaken (then) the basic fact is that
cerebrum cannot be segmented into two units cere� and
�brum, as I erroneously assumed. The word, however,
does certainly mean �brain.� Cere-, for its own part,
also corresponds to the Vedic/Sanskrit �siras and to
the older Rig-Vedic �siir.san, both meaning, �head.�
In fact, cere- and �siras are both based on the
Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root *k�.rH-, as are a host
of other Indo-European words, e.g. Greek keras
(�head�) and Latin cornu (�horn�). This shows that
*k��H- originally indicated �the uppermost part of the
body, head, horn, summit,� etc., as affirmed by Julius
Pokorny in his _Indogermanisches Etymologisches
W�rterbuch_, 574. The two Indic derivatives �siras and
�siir.san (then) go back to the pre-forms *k�.rH-os
and *k�.rH-s-n-os, respectively. These PIE roots are
the source of words in many other languages related to
the same semantic field through varied means of
suffixes and affixes. Cerebrum, which is derived from
the identical pre-form, differs only in its affix
*-ro- as seen in the reconstructed *k�.rHs-ro-m. It
then developed through various stages whereby *-sr-
became -br- through a secondary sound-change. The -o-
in the final syllable, which is still retained in Old
Latin, became -u- in the classical language. The
segmentation thus became cereb-ru-m, producing
�cerebrum.� The final -m is simply the ending of the
neuter nominative/accusative singular.

Now the fact that the meaning of cerebrum is �brain�
confirms that Latin used a -ro- suffix in its
derivation (vis-�-vis Greek, keras-rom),  denoting
�something that belongs to the head.� But I find it
very interesting that the Latin word for �head,� which
should have been something along the lines of cere-,
was supplanted by the altogether different word,

As a final point: There seems to be evidence of an
early correlation between Latin �caput� and Sanskrit
kapaala meaning, �skull,� though this has not been
definitively proven.

Best regards,

Troy Harris

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