Mmegi Blogs :: The ancient etymology of heaps and curves (Part 2)
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Wednesday 19 September 2018, 14:07 pm.
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The ancient etymology of heaps and curves (Part 2)

This week’s insertion continues the comparisons we made last week. But in an even earlier article, we had covered another form of ‘heaped, bent, curved’ in the form of the term circa (‘round’ or ‘around’).
By L M Leteane Fri 12 Feb 2016, 12:29 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: The ancient etymology of heaps and curves (Part 2)








‘Circa’, of course, is the source of the term ‘circle’. In Setswana, ‘circa’ and the Setswana term le-seka strictly refers to a circular band, a bracelet, worn mainly around wrists or ankles. But ‘circa’ itself is based on se-raka, which means ‘circular’, hence the Hebrew the term rakia is associated with a bracelet or large ring. But raka is literally ‘that which meets itself]’ as a circle definitely is not really complete until the two curved lines meet (rakana). In Setswana, le-rako is an enclosure and it typically encircles so as to contain something and mo-raka is where the animals ‘come together’ after grazing out in the open.

In fact, apart from being a lerako, the enclosure that contains animals is called a ‘kraal’ (Afrikaans) or a ‘corral’ (English). Its basic meaning, I discern, comes not from ‘wagon’ (’i.e. currus in Latin; that which speeds [along]; and specifically the enclosure for wagons: currale),  but rather from the ancient term kur (curved), as in a circular enclosure that traditionally enclosed animals. We looked at the term last week but let us add a few derivations we did not cover. For example, kur-alla in Setswana is ‘protrude [by bending outward]’, and kuru (khudu: a tortoise) gets its name from its ‘curved’ (‘heaped/protruding’) shell. ‘Correct’ is made up of kur + rect, meaning ‘straighten out [a] curve’; i.e. straighten a ‘bending away’ from the beaten path. Let us now revisit the term kur in the specific light of how it applied in the names of ancient Mesopotamian and European gods (who I confirmed to be the same gods, anyway).

There is a Mesopotamian god who was known as ‘Ishkur’ (e-shu-kur) by the Sumerians, Ashur (a–shu-hur) by the Assyrians, and Teshub (te-shu-hub) by the Hittites. Once we understand that the Setswana term ‘shu!’ is an expression or exclamation reacting to intense heat, and that the base word is ‘sha’ (to burn), we can easily unbundle all these variations to mean one thing: “Fiery Mountain”. Indeed, last week we showed, individually, that the names kur, hur and hub all relate to ‘heap/mound’ – which in turn relate to ‘mountain’.  In Nordic lore, this same god was known Vulcan – a god associated with the heat and sparks of blacksmithing – and his name is widely acknowledged as related to ‘volcano’, fiery mountain’. The term ‘volcano’, Setswana can explain, come from vula + kano which means ‘open mouth’. Naturally, this refers to the crater of a volcano, the opening from which the lava (fire) emanates. Being a god given to emotional outbursts, he no doubt opened his ‘fiery mouth’ quite regularly.

 There are a few names that I only recently deciphered. Thoth, the Egyptian Wisdom-God, was known as ‘Mercury’ in Roman lore and ‘Thor’ in Nordic lore. Noting that the r is pronounced like the French r or Spanish J (as in

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‘Julio’), ‘Mercury’ can be transliterated as Meago-Kuru (‘He of the Immense Structures’. Here, kuru/khulu (large) and kuru (mountain) coincide in sound, suggesting a play on words. But since a heap is also ‘something larger than that which is flat’, it is bigger and that is how the derivation evidently came about. Thor, then, is made up of te + hur (‘Te-Haar’ in Dutch), meaning ‘of the mountain’ or ‘he of the mountains’ i.e. the large structures. Thoth, the Divine Architect, is of course credited with having built the Giza pyramids which for millennia were the tallest man-made structures in the world until the Eifel Tower in Paris, France was built in modern times. What we must however bear in mind is that ‘fiery mountain’ sometime alluded to more than just a particular god. Shems (space rockets) landed on the mountain tops and it was like the mountain was on fire (see (Exodus 19:16-18; 24:16-17).

Although last week we identified the term ‘ur’ as the base etymology for ‘Earth’, Uruta also transliterates as o rota (‘it is rotund’), which suggests that the ancients knew that Earth was spherical. Last week, we explained how rota related to a ‘repeating cycle’. Another term suggesting ‘heap’ is ‘hump’, which we can relate to ho-mpa in Setswana. Similarly, we can relate the Setswana term kompa (ko + mpa: ‘gathered together as one lump’) to the English term ‘compact’. Sanskrit is a prime source from which Indo-European languages derives and it may be called Proto-Indo-European (PIE). The Norwegian term ‘purla’ means ‘bubble up’ and its source is the Sanskrit term purula which became pudula in Setswana: ‘that which has air blown into it’. Indeed, in Sanskrit, purana is ‘air/breath’ (i.e. ‘that which is blown out’).

Let us now devote a few lines to the antonym of ‘curved’ and ‘heaped’: ‘flat’. The term ‘flat’ is made up of fo/vur + lata), and ‘plate’ is based on bo-lata. The base term lata in Setswana refers to ‘one who prostrates himself (flattens) before his master (see also ‘lateral’ and latte’ in English). Also, palatte (tongue) has the peculiar ability to flatten out. The term bata in bata-lala (lie flat) dos not directly mean ‘flat’. It means ‘press or hit against’ and thus batalala is ‘press against [the ground]’.  Its perfect tense pata is the root of pata-ganya (‘put/press together’). The Sotho term pata (‘hide’) derives from the fact that something has to press against and behind something in order to stay hidden. The semantic shift to batula (strike) implies greater speed of impact, hence ‘battle, batter, bat’ all imply ‘forceful contact with another’, while ‘bateau’ (flat-bottomed boat), batten (thin, flat strip of wood) all have the appearance of having been ‘beaten flat’. Surely in this two-part miniseries, we again glimpsed our old universal mother language, now all but forgotten.

Comments to leteanelm@gmail.com

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