Mmegi Blogs :: The ancient etymologies of calmness and agitation
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Friday 16 November 2018, 09:22 am.
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The ancient etymologies of calmness and agitation

This week, we look at the etymologies of words associated with calmness and agitation and use them to unearth vestiges of a now lost universal mother language alluded to in Genesis 11. Indeed, the etymology of the English term ‘calm’ is now opaque to Indo-European (it stems not from the Latin term cauma (heat), or Greek kauma (burning heat) as alleged).
By L M Leteane Fri 17 Jun 2016, 14:21 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: The ancient etymologies of calmness and agitation








Its base (proto) term is lulama (become quiet, serene: which relates to llama – a docile, camel-like Peruvian animal). The term lulama is made up of lala (lie flat) + ma (a suffix meaning ‘become’, as in ana-ma (become spread-out; seka-ma: become tilted or flat). The term lala itself relates to the English term ‘lull’ which indeed means ‘quieten’ (verb) or ‘quiet interval’ (noun). As such, the evident miscuing of the etymology for ‘calm’ is only because etymologists have lost the ancient suffix ma.

Calmness also implies quietness, and the term ‘quiet’ relates to the Setswana kete (slow down) Naturally, when one is calm he tends to take things in a steadier, more measured way. We can also relate the Sotho-Tswana word thola (‘be quiet’) to the English term ‘dull’ – still enunciated as dool rather than tdahl in many English regional accents. Again, naturally, a ‘dull’ person is one who is rather too quiet and unexciting to interact with. A reverse of these takes (whereby the English take is now more positive than the Setswana take) can be found in the English term ‘serene’ (clam, tranquil) which I relate to the Sotho term tshereana (‘become dull and lifeless’, shortened to tseana in Setswana). Tseana, though, may have its own valid etymology based on ancient Sumerian. Zi-ana (‘be down [to Earth]’) entails the ancient term zi (‘[down] here’), as in the Nguni term panzi; pan (the world, everywhere) + zi (here), thus: ‘down on earth’. As for the term ‘tranquil’ itself, it is made up of trans (‘beyond’, one of its proper variations apart from ’across’) and quil which I discern to be ko ila (‘to detest’), thus implying ‘one who is beyond ill-will’, i.e. is measured and calm. The English term ‘mad’ can apply for when someone has lost his temper (sense of emotional balance) or when someone has lost his mental balance, i.e. his reasoning. Fundamentally, se-mata comprising se (‘like, partial to’) and mata (‘strength’) implies ‘one who relies more on physical strength than mental ability’, i.e. suggesting that the person is not clever at all. This key understanding allows us to better decipher the semantic shift to from ‘strength’ to ‘stupid’. Now the Yiddish terms – now slang – schmutz and schmutter all imply ‘worthless thing, a fool’ and the English colloquial term ‘mutt’ (‘[stupid] dog’) reflect this semantic shift which obtains in both Setswana and English (se-mata is indeed ‘fool’ in Setswana). Further evidence of mata as meaning ‘fool’ is the not-very-well-known English term ‘galimatias’ (‘confused or unintelligible talk’) which is heavily premised on the Greek term amathis (‘ignorance’) – a trait typically exhibited by a ‘fool’.  Madness, we noted, also suggests loss of mental balance. As for the term ‘balance’ itself , it relates to the proto-term pala (‘resist, remain unmoved’) and thus palalana (‘be at an impasse, be equal in strength or weight’) relates to, balance

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(pala + n + ka), ka being an ancient proto-term meaning ‘equal’ – as in  Egyptian where it means ‘soul’, the counterpart, of the body, and which in Setswana is je-ka (‘such like’) now jaaka, and the n being old prefix that points to a noun (nku – pointing to a sheep (the term ku as meaning ‘sheep’ stems from Sumerian) – and nthomola: “provoke me”, the n pointing at oneself).   As for the term ‘half-wit’ – which implies that a person has only about half his wits with him – it relies heavily on the term ‘half’. The etymology of the term has undergone slight semantic shifts that can nevertheless be traced. It is premised on the ancient universal proto-term gafa, which fundamentally means ‘take away a portion of’. Thus, a ‘cave’ is a hollow that looks like someone has taken out a portion of a hill or cliff.  So although the Setswana slang term gafa – which is a formal term in other Sotho-Tswana languages like Sepedi) means ‘pay out, reward’) and thus implies to ‘give’ rather than to ‘take out’, but as in gafela (now kgafela) – a harvest in which one takes out a bit from his field and gives it to the king in homage - what it principally means is that one first has to take away from one’s resources in order to give it away. As regards ‘madness’, the Pedi term gafa even means ‘become mad’, implying that one’s sanity has indeed ‘halved’…‘gafa-ed’.

Moving on to terms that relate to agitation, the base term in ‘agitate’ is gita which, above, we related to the proto-term ‘iketa’ (slow, down, be calm), thus: ‘move away from calmness’.  Adorning the term is the prefix a (‘belong to/ tending toward’ as in ‘affix, abase’, or tending away from, as in asexual, amoral’) and the suffix ate which literally means ‘is it?’ and thus interrogates whether a thing is like something else…in other words creates a comparison or contrast. A few semantic shifts later, it came to affirm that something has indeed is becoming, or has become, like the thing to which it compared thus ‘germinate’ is ‘act like a germ’ (i.e. grow or multiply quickly) and ‘pulsate’ means ‘become or behave like a pulse’.  Loudness and agitation, in Setswana, is termed mo-rusu and I easily relate it to the Dutch term raas (make noise). The base term ru is actually as in ru-mola (‘provoke’) and, with aslight sound-change, is rou, as in ‘rouse’ (‘provoke, wake up’) and carouse (drink heavily and noisily). I can also decipher the etymology of the term ‘loud’ as transliterating to la-ho-uta (‘that which make one hear’) and that the Setswana term howa (as pronounced in Sotho, now gowa in Setswana with a hard g. and meaning ‘to shout’) as containing a proto-term that manifests in the English term ‘howl’.

Comments to leteanelm@gmail.com

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