LINGUIST List 9.421

Fri Mar 20 1998

Sum: Apple-Word

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Theo Vennemann, Apple-word, Summary

Message 1: Apple-word, Summary

Date: Tue, 17 Mar 1998 03:05:44 +0100
From: Theo Vennemann <>
Subject: Apple-word, Summary

Dear Linguists on the List:

On 26 January 1998 I asked for opinions concerning my idea (fn. 1)
that the West Indo-European apple-word, which has no accepted
Indo-European etymology and is thus likely to be a loan-word from a
non-Indo-European language, is the same as Hamito-Semitic *'abol-
'genitals' (fn. 2). There were about twenty replies. Most of them were
very useful, and some I can use for a paper which I sent to the States
a few days ago, hoping that it will be accepted for
publication. (fn. 3). A few of those responding will find themselves
in footnotes of that paper. (I warned you all.)

(fn. 1) To be published in the appendix of my paper "Basken, Semiten,
Indogermanen: Urheimatfragen in linguistischer und anthropologischer
Sicht", in: Akten der 10. Fachtagung der Indogermanischen
Gesellschaft, Innsbruck, 22.-28. September 1996, ed. by Wolfgang Meid,
Innsbruck: Universitat Innsbruck, Institut fur Sprachwissenschaft,
forthcoming with in a few months.

(fn. 2) For which cf. Vladimir E. Orel and Olga V. Stolbova,
Hamito-Semitic etymological dictionary: Materials for a reconstruction
(Handbook of Oriental Studies: The Near and Middle East, 18),
Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995, no. 8.

(fn. 3) "Andromeda and the Apples of the Hesperides", rev. version of
a paper read at the Ninth Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, Los
Angeles, 23 and 24 May 1997.

I received answers from the following Linguists (titles omitted)
between 27 January and 8 February 1998:

Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi <diriyeamMAGELLAN.UMontreal.CA>
Ignacio-J. Adiego <>
Wolfgang Behr <>
Ilija Casule <>
Ronald Cosper <Ronald.CosperSTMARYS.CA>
Karen Davis <>
Michael B. Dobrovolsky <>
Marcel Erdal <>
Ralf Grosserhode <>
Kjetil Ra Hauge <>
Joshua Katz <>
Koontz John E <John.KoontzColorado.EDU>
Vern M. Lindblad <>
Simon Musgrave <>
Chad D. Nilep <>
Tadhg O hIfearnain <>
Asya Pereltsvaig <>
Gonzalo Rubio <>
Jerome Serme <>
Richard Steiner <>
Rolf Tatje <>
Alexander Vovin <>
Debra Ziegeler <>

I would like to thank all who responded for spending time and energy
to write to me. I beg forgiveness for abstaining, in most instances,
from writing individual letters.

Before I reproduce pertinent parts of the letters sent to me, let me
clarify two misunderstandings:

(1) I never considered a semantic development from 'gentitals' to
'apple' but only conversely. My idea is that a Hamito-Semitic word
*'abol- meaning 'apple' was borrowed into West Indo-European before it
changed its meaning (and/or was lost entirely) in Hamito-Semitic.

(2) Yes, I knew that the apple word does not only occur in Germanic
but also in Baltic, Slavic, and Celtic, and indeed also in one city
name of Campania (Italy), Abella, named malifera 'the apple.bearing
one' by Vergil in Aeneis VII, 740. Some respondents deplored that this
destroyed my assumption of a Hamito-Semitic origin of the word because
it proved the word to be Indo-European. It is, on the contrary, the
occurrence of the word in precisely these languages, together with its
structure, that has led scholars to suspect that it is not a native
Indo-European word.

(3) No, I am not afraid of jeopardizing my reputation as a linguist by
proposing speculative ideas such as that of a once Hamito-Semitic
European Northwest. This is so, first, because I am not afraid of
making mistakes--there are many knowledgeable specialists out there
who will set things right where I err; second, because I do not have a
sufficiently elevated opinion of myself to think in those terms
(probably only European scholars think that way, I am afraid, but I am
fortunate enough to have spent the essential formative decade of my
life as a linguist, from doctoral student to professor, at the
University of California); and third, because the idea itself is not
all that remarkable if you will kindly remember that the same idea has
long been well established for a significant portion of that region,
the British Isles. Incidentally, if someone is not familiar with the
third point of (3), here are some reading suggestions:

Morris Jones, J. 1900 "Pre-Aryan syntax in Insular Celtic." In: John
Rhys and David Brynmor-Jones, The Welsh people: Chapters on their
origin, history, laws, language, literature and characteristics,
London: T. Fisher Unwin, Appendix B, p. 617-641.

Pokorny, Julius 1927-30 "Das nicht-indogermanische Substrat im
Irischen", Zeitschrift fur celtische Philologie 16: 95-144, 231-266,
363-394; 17: 373-388; 18: 233-248.

Gensler, Orin David 1993 A typological evaluation of
Celtic/Hamito-Semitic syntactic parallels. Unpublished
Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley. [Available
from University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan,
no. 9407967.]

Now I will present--in no particular order, or rather pretty much the
order in which they arrived--the comments and suggestions that I
received, some abbridged, with occasional ramarks of my own added in
double parentheses. I think they deserve being copied because they are
both humorous and informative. And I think I am permitted to
distribute them because I promised (or threatened) to send a
summary. I do not quite know whether as a whole they prove or disprove
my apple etymology. But I believe they show, by the copiousness and
liveliness of the response, that it is going to be a fruitful

As the poet advises:

Ist der Ruf erst ruiniert,
lebt sich's gaenzlich ungeniert. (Wilhelm Busch)

Here is my free translation:

Once you're held in low repute,
you may write on any fruit.

With kind regards,
Theo Vennemann.
16 March 1998

- --------------------------------------------------------------------------
- ---
Ignacio-J. Adiego, Barcelona:

- In spanish, "pera" ("pear"; deutsch Birne) is used for "penis",
specially in the -very vulgar- expression "tocar la pera" (litter:
touch the pear to molest, cf. tocar los cojones, litt. touch the
testicles, "to molest" etc. ). Cf. perhaps too "hacer(se) una pera"
(litt. to make (himself) a pear to masturbate.

- In catalan, pebrots peppers, (spanisch pimientos) is used for
"testicles" in colloquial expressions ("tocar els pebrots", etc.) But
note that in both cases, the words don't have lost their original
meanings. However, the existence of "metaphoric shifts which have
subsequently made the non-metaphorical use of a word impossible or
ousted it altogether" seems to me clearly possible: there is a good
exemple in Latin "penis": Its original meaning seems to have been
"tail", but Cicero says "hodie penis est in obscenis (Cic. Fam. 9, 22,
2, a very interesting letter on taboo words) after commenting the
respectable use of penis as "tail" in the archaic authors.Therefore,
"in CIcero's own day that word had come to be restricted to its sexual
sense" (J. N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, London, 1982,
p. 37).

((The German word zagel (Engl. tail) was lost from the literary
language for the same reason. It was replaced in its original meaning
by Schwanz. Guess what is happening to Schwanz!))

- --------------------------------------------------------------------------

Debra Ziegeler:

I cannot provide any concrete support for the link (historically)
between words meaning 'apple' and those meaning 'genitals', but it did
make we wonder: what exactly did Eve offer to Adam in the garden of
Eden? After all, it was only after the apple was eaten that they were
aware of their nakedness, and this story, furthermore, must have
originally appeared in a semitic language, don't you think? Just a
thought on the biblical translation.

((My UCLA paper contains an elaborate comparison of the Garden of Eden
and the Garden of the Hesperides where the apples, a gift to Hera on
occasion of her nuptial union with Zeus, are guarded by a
serpent. While in the Old Testament it says "fruit" rather than
"apple", I think what Paris Alexandros gave to Aphrodite really was an

- ------------------------------------------------------------------

Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi:

My ... maternal language (Somali--Cushitic, Afro-asiatic...):

Buur -- a mountain; protusion
Buur -- to make into a roll
Buuryo -- penis
Buur-an -- round, fat
Abuur -- seed; to plant (a seed); to create; creation.
- -------------------------------------------------------------------

John Koontz:

> I am engaged in a project whose goal it is to show that the European
> Atlantic seaboard was in prehistoric times colonized by seafaring
> peoples speaking Atlantic languages, languages that were closely
> related to Semitic

This sounds like an interesting and plausible theory, though I hope
any linguistic support or concurrence will be stronger than the
'apple' case. I suppose it must attempt to explain the megalith and
beaker manifestations. ...

It seems to me there is some sexual or other significance to the
pomegranate and its seed that Hades used to bind Persephone to him.
There's a Siouan literary connection between the penis and the plum.
In the Trickster cycle there is a story in which the Trickster's penis
is bitten into segments by the chipmunk and the scattered pieces, or
in some cases only some kinds of parts, give rise to plums and other
plants with a grey fuzz or bloom on them. This story occurs in
Dorsey's 1890 collection of Omaha-Ponca (Cegiha) texts and in Radin's
study of the Winnebago Trickster.

It seems reasonable to me that there should be a potential visual
analogy between a fruit that hangs in small clusters of two and three
and at least the testicles. I don't know of any examples of that,
however, and the only thing at all similar along those lines is the
occasional use of acorn terms for the uncircumcized glans. I think
there are IE examples of this, though I'm not familiar with the data,
and the workers on the Comparative Siouan Dictionary noticed some
comparable examples in Siouan. The dictionary isn't published yet,
but you could contact David Rood at regarding
the possibility of consulting the relevant article, if it seems

((Isn't this wonderful stuff? I am learning so much. Wish I could cite
it all in my paper. But here I really want to protect my
reputation. "Bitten into segments by the chipmunk"! I wouldn' want to
go that far--in a scholarly paper.))
- --------------------------------------------------------------------------
 Ilija Casule, Sydney:

I find your line of research quite interesting and promising. I would
like to refer you to my study "Basic Burushaski Etymologies (The
Paleobalkanic and Indo-European Affinities of Burushaski)" which is
being published by LINCOM EUROPA and will be available by the end of
February because I think it is relevant to your line of inquiry.
 I won't dwell on the details of my book, but basically I have found
striking etymological, compact semantic and consistent phonetic and
grammatical and derivational correspondences between Burushaski and
the Ancient Balkan languages - especially Phrygian and Thracian and by
extension with the Balto-Slavic languages (I analyse around 200
etymologies). One major area of Burushaski vocabulary includes
cultural words of Mediterranean and Balkan (Ancient) origin. Berger
(1956) Mittelmeerische Kulturpflanzennamen aus dem Burusaski",
Munchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft. Bd 9:4-33, identified a
layer of "Mediterranean" cultural words which he appears to trace to
Burushaski rather than the other way around. My hypothesis is that
these words originate from the Mediterranean area and were brought in
the Hindu Kush by the Burushaski. That is how this posting is related
to your question. One of these cultural words is the Burushaski word
for apple - BALT (the others are pfak - 'fig', copuri - 'caper',
biranc - 'mulberry', pheso - 'pear' etc.) In my book I look at it
separately, but after your posting I have realised that the following
Burushaski series where it parallels Phrygian and Balto-Slavic may in
fact support your point: Burushaski has: BALI ATAS - 'to pile up, to
heap up'(<*bhal-) BALK - 'plank, board, shelf' (<*bhel-g') BALBAL -
'projecting or overhanging rock'(as above, with reduplication) BAMBULA
BUS - (<*bhal-bhal -'male cat' (bambula-male) Note that Phrygian has
bambalun - 'penis', Lith. bambalos - 'fat man, boy', bambti - 'to
bulge'. In this context, the word for apple may well be linked with
this derivational nest, except that all derivates, especially balk
point to an Indo-European origin (and Trubacev believes that the word
for apple is of I-E provenience). In this example it doesn't have to
mean however that this is a Mediterranean word coming from the Semitic
languages. Maybe two forms - one I.E. and one Mediterranean converged.

((I know Berger's article, and I have a long section "3.4. On apples,
balls, and whales" in my UCLA paper. But I cannot help believing that
the apple word stands apart.))
- --------------------------------------------------------------------------
Rolf Tatje, Duisburg:

mit Interesse habe ich Ihre Anfrage in der LinguistList gelesen. Als
Romanist (und also Nicht-Indogermanist) fand ich diese Verbindungen
zwischen europaischen und semitischen Sprachen hochst spannend - war
mir vollkommen neu.

Betreffend die eigentliche Frage, kann und mochte ich nur zwei
spontane Gedanken aussern ...

1) Die erste Idee deuten Sie selbst bereits an: Euphemismen der
metaphorischen Art fur Genitalien sind naturlich uberaus weit
verbreitet - ich dachte sofort an die vielen Ausdrucke fur Hoden:
dt. Eier, Nusse, engl. balls etc. - womit wir direkt bei den Apfeln
waren. Betreffend "Penis" und Prostituierte) gibt es eine altere
Arbeit zu den entsprechenden Ausdruck en im Italienischen, ich glaube,
von Rohrer (Kennen Sie wahrscheinlich. Bei Bedarf suche ich gerne die
genauen Angaben heraus); dort finden sich vielleicht noch einige
Ausdrucke, die in Ihre Richtung gehen.

2) Die zweite Idee betrifft den (De-)Metaphorisierungsweg vom
speziellen, sexuell gebrauchten zum generellen, nicht konnotierten
Ausdruck. Ich dachte dort an den "Joystick". Dieser metaphorische
Ausdruck stammt ursprunglich aus der englischen Fliegersprache aus den
Dreissiger Jahren (nach Bernhard Ahring: Linguistisch-analytische
Reflexionen zur Fachsprache der Luftfahrt.Diss. Bochum 1980) und
bezeichnete den Steuerknuppel. Die Konnotation ist fur jeden des
Englischen Machtigen naturlich unubersehbar. Offensichtlich wurde der
Begriff spater fur den Computer ubernommen. Ich habe den Eindruck,
dass die der ursprunglichen Benennung zugrunde liegende sexuelle
Metapher heute weitgehend aus dem Sprachbewusstsein verschwunden
(allerdings jederzeit reaktivierbar) ist. Jedenfalls scheint mir hier
eventuell ein moderner Parallelfall zu Ihrem Apfel vorzuliegen.

((I do not know the work on Italian, but the range of expressions for
the testicles is familiar enough. Some more will come up below. The
direction of semantic change in this domain is most aptly charcterized
by Wilkins, see below.))
- --------------------------------------------------------------------------
Marcel Erdal, Frankfurt a.M. (Wolfgang Behr, Leiden, too refers
me to this paper):

It may be of interest for this discussion that I published a paper
(taking also Gamkrelidze-Ivanov on this topic into consideration)
exactly on the matter being discussed. It is called "Around the Turkic
'apple'" and appeared in the Journal of Indo-European Studies, vol. 21
(1993) pp. 27-36.
- --------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gonzalo Rubio, Baltimore:

In general. Orel-Stolbova is a work that should be handle with some
caution. The data for Chadic languages (Stolbova's contribution) are
quite good, but the other stuff is full of mistakes and errors. You
should check carefully the reviews:

I. M. Diakonoff and L. E. Kogan. "Addenda et corrigenda to
_Hamito-Semitic Etymological Dictionary_ by V. Orel and O. Stolbova,"
_ZDMG_ 146 (1996): 25-38.

L. E. Kogan. "Addenda et corrigenda..., II," forthcoming (if you are
interested, I could give you Leonid Kogan's e-mail address in
Moskow). ...

Some languages (Spanish, Arabic, etc) use "eggs" as the usual familiar
word for "testicles." On the other hand, most Mediterranean languages
use "fig" for "vulva" (Greek sykon, Latin ficus, Spanish higo, Italian
figa, etc.). ...

The root is *bl (with sonant *l), that evolves to *bwl (with actually
semivocalic u) and *blw (also semivocalic u). Although in Berber,
Egyptian, and Chadic, it means "penis", in Semitic is "to urinate"
mostly (though Ethiopian langauges, espeially Anharic and Gurage do
present the meanign "penis" or just "a part of the body"). I'm not
sure the nominal menaing is "older." A secondary (suffixed) formation
is *bl-` (with a suffixed `ayin), meaning mostly "genitals, testicle."

You may want to take a look at:

I. M. Diakonoff et al. "Historical comparative vocabulary of
Afrasian." _St. Pertersburg Journal of African Studies_ 3 (1994): 19.

... Diakonoff's team (Militarev, Stolbova, Bobrova, Kogan, etc.) are
about to publish the first vol. of their Afroasiatic distionary, ...

((I know that there has been criticism of Orel and Stolbova's
dictionary, some of it so grotesquely unfair that even I as a
non-specialist could tell; but none, as far as I can see, has
undermined no. 8 *'abol- 'genitals'--which is all that interests me in
the present context.))
- ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Simon Musgrave, Melbourne:

In the Acehnese language (Austronesian, North Sumatra), the word _boh_
is a classifier, in fact the least specific and most widely used
classifier in the language. One sort of object which it can classify
is fruit, and it also can be used as a generic noun for fruit or
eggs. However, a friend of mine who did some field work in Aceh
experienced great embarrassment when he thought he told his Acehnese
friends that he was going to the market to buy some fruit, only to
have them burst into laughter - they then explained that his sentence
could be understood as meaning that he was going to the market to buy
some testes. The folk science implicit in this metaphor seems a little
dubious in the Acehnese case, given that they have another classifier
_neuk_, used for seeds, seedlings and small round objects. This word
is even etymologically related to the word _aneuk_ "child".

My source for all of this information, except the slang use of _boh_
is Mark Durie's _A Grammar of Acehnese_ (1985, Dordrecht: Foris
Publications) pp138-9. I hope this amuses you, even if it is of no
help in your quest!

((Buying fruit or eggs in North Sumatra seems to be as tricky as
buying cucumbers in Turkey, see below.))
- ---------------------------------------------------------------------
Michael Dobrovolsky, Calgary:

I can contribute the fact that in SiSwati, according to a former grad
student of ours (a native speaker), one of the over a dozen noun
classes (this one is prefixed with li-) encompasses 'body parts and
fruit' -- so the metaphoric extension you're trying to confirm is not
far fetched in this language, at least, but hasn't disassociated.

I can't help thinking that many of the words referring to 'sweet' are
connected as well, e.g., melos, melon, alma/elma and might also be
ablaut varations of the fruit/body part term. Probably very ancient
forms indeed that will give you as much of a headache as those brave
souls get who try to follow through with 'ash/eshek/as' ('horse/donkey
etc') that we find as early as Sumerian. Any Sumerian connection to
the 'apple' forms, by the way?

((Very subtle indirect support indeed. As for Sumerian: No, at least
not yet.))
- -------------------------------------------------------------------
Alexander Vovin, Honolulu:

Turkish elma is an anomalous form. The form alma is widely attested in
Oghuz and Qypchaq languages as well as in several Turkic languages in
China, such as Saryg-Uigur and Salar. Salar also has an alternative
form a:lima that is likely to be borrowed from a Mongolic
source. Uzbek has Olma, Uigur a(l)ma, and Chuvash ulma. This latter
one shows that PT vowel in question should be *a, not *e- (Chuvash /u/
developped from PT *a, not *e). Mahmud Kashgari has alm+la
(Etymologicheskii slovar' tiurkskikh iazykov, I:138).

 Written Mongolian has alima "apple." There are also etymologically
related forms in modern Mongolian languages: Khalkha alim, Buriat
alima. Buriat aliman 'fresh', 'juicy' may be related, too.

 Among Tungusic languages, only Solon has alim 'apple', obviously
borrowed from Mongolian.

 There is Korean yelmay 'fruit', attested as Early Modern Korean
yelmoy, but I suspect that it has nothing to do with the word in
question, being in all probability a derivation from yel- 'open'.

 There are no comparable forms in Japanese (at least I can't think
of any from the top of my head).

 Munkacsi believed that the word in question is borrowed from
IE. It seems to me that it would be difficult to connect it with IE
either way: the archetype in Altaic should be something like *al+m. If
so, it is likely to be a Turkic word by origin, being just a deverbal
noun from *a:l- "take", "gather": "the thing one gathers". Mongolic
then just borrowed it from Turkic.

((If I can see any connection at all, it would be with Greek me:lon
(Dor. Aeol. ma:lon) 'apple', Latin ma:lum 'apple', but not with the
West Indo- European apple word, whose connection with the
Mediterranean word I do not consider proven.))
- --------------------------------------------------------------------
Jerome Serme, Lyon:

I read your query about the 'apple puzzle' on the Linguist List. Since
I had the advantage of attending the conference you gave here in Lyon
in June 1996, and since I share myself some interest in semantic
shifts, I thought I could give you some hints. Though I have no
evidence to offer you on my own account, I can point you to a source
that will support your connection between "apple" and "testicle".

((Through J. Serme I became acquainted with David Wilkins and his work
on universals of semantic change. At the same time I read the book
notice in the latest issue of Language of

Mark Durie and Malcolm Ross, eds., The comparative method reviewed:
Regularity and irregularity in language change. New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press.

That book contains :

Wilkins, David P. "Natural tendencies of semantic change and the
search for cognates", pp. 264-304. Cp. the following paragraph:

"Another example of this last type [i.e. among "the natural tendencies
... that are specific to a particular person part", the type "in
which there are parallel languages or family-specific source notions
which give rise to the person-part term, and one must extract the
common features shared by these source notions in order to state the
tendency"] is provided by the changes which give rise to
'testicle'. In Indo-European we find the Lith- uanian form for
'testicle', _pautas_, originally meant 'egg'; Danish and Sweden
_sten_, also meaning 'testicle', is originally from the general
Germanic word for 'stone'; the Dutch words for 'testicle' are
_zaadbal_ and _teelbal_ which mean 'seed ball' and 'beget ball',
respectively; and common non-medical English terms for 'testicles' are
'nuts' and 'balls'. Similarly, in Dravidian, a low
level-reconstruction for 'egg' (*_mut.t.ai_), based on seven
languages, is realised in Kod.agu with a reflex meaning both 'egg' and
'testicle', and a reconstructed form for 'nut' or 'seed' (*kat.t.o)
shows up in Kota as ket. with the meaning 'testicle'. [Dots following
a symbol for a dental go Under that symbol, TV.] Proto- Polynesian
*_fua_ 'fruit' has the reflex _hua_, meaning 'testicle', in the
language of Easter Island, and in the Papuan language Yagaria the form
for 'testicle' is aga'mo' laga, which literally means 'scrotum
fruit'. Finally, in the Native American Indian language Delaware the
word for 'potato', hopmis(ak) [ for schwa, TV], has also come to
refer to 'testicle' ... . Thus, it appears that it is a natural
tendency for a term originally referring to something smallish (that
is, can be held in one hand (((fn. 1))) and roundish (ovoid to
spherical), and preferably naturally occurring (that is, found in the
natural environment rather than man-made) to take on the meaning
'testicle'. However, the actual source notion may vary from language
to language and family to family, although 'egg', 'seed', and 'fruit',
all of which are involved in nonhuman procreation, are the most common
crosslinguistical sources." (Wilkins 1996: 273) )

(fn. 1) RE "can be held in one hand": For this notion I recommend
following the OED's reference s.v. ball, 15.b, 1928 citation, to D. H.
Lawrence, Lady Chatterley xv. 263.))
- ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Ralf Grosserhode, Bayreuth:

Es gibt in der Tat eine Parallele, die jedoch keineswegs als Beleg
taugt: Im Swahili gibt es den Ausdruck "kumpa matunda" jemandem die
Fruchte geben. Das Problem ist allerdings, dass dies eine
Vermeidungsstrategie ist. Vermieden wird die direkte Nennung von
sexuellem. Umgekehrt funktio- niert das garantiert nicht. Und ein
Apfel erinnert auch kaum an ein mann- liches Geschlechtsteil. Die
Ahnlichkeit mit dem rekonstruierten Begriff halte ich daher fur eher
zufallig. Wenn allerdings schon in diese Richtung gesucht wird, warum
dann die Beschrankung auf semitische Sprachen? Es ware dann doch
sinnvoller, im weiteren Afro-Asiatischen Kontext zu suchen, oder? Der
Kontakt konnte schliesslich auch via Gibraltar gelaufen sein.

((That an apple is not reminiscent of a penis may hold true for some
people's imagination, as it does for mine. In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung
a few weeks ago I saw that connection drawn as a matter of course.

Orel and Stolbova present *'abol- as Hamito-Semitic, not as Semitic.))
- ---------------------------------------------------------------------

Kjetil Ra Hauge, Oslo:

Something similar seems to be in the process of happening with the
word for "cucumber" in Turkish: hIyar (I\255tless i). The methaphorical
meaning has become so predominant that people prefer to ask for
"salatalIk" 'salad thingie' instead. The word is still in the
dictionaries, and the methaphorical meaning is given as "stupid
person" or something like that, but I have read somewhere (and I am
sorry I cannot remember where) that it also has the meaning of
"penis", and my colleague who teaches Turkish supports me on this.

A similar situation seems to hold in French, where you can no longer
use "baiser" in the sense 'to kiss', and I seem to remember reading
that the alternative, "embrasser", has become compromised as well.

My next door colleague, who teaches Russian, informs me that Russians
ask for eggs in the shops using the diminutive, "jaic`aki" to avoid
"jajca", which has the methaphorical sense 'balls' (but of course in
this case, the root morpheme is preserved.)

And I cannot resist mentioning that my native dialect from the Sogn
area, western Norway, uses the word "bodl" (syllabic l) for 'penis'
('ball' is "badl"; "ball" in standard Norwegian; dl for ll is
regular). The word is also known in Icelandic, but not generally known
in eastern Norwegian dialects (so consequently a mountain in the area
appears on official maps with its local name Bodlenakkjen

((I had been told before that a word for 'cucumber' in Turkish never
lasts longer than a week. What may it be now?))
- ----------------------------------------------------------------------

Tadhg O hIfearnain, Luimneach/Limerick:

What a fascinating subject!

The word for apple in Irish (and in Scots and Manx Gaelic) is
"ubhall". The modern Irish spelling is "ull", with the long "u"
replacing the ubha-, the "bh" being a "b" that has undergone
intervocalic aspiration. Scottish Gaelc still uses the "ubhal"
spelling, and in truth I think most Irish speakers still pronounce the
word as if it has two vowels anyway.

And the answer to your question is yes, it does mean any sort of a
globular object. I don't have the RIA etymological dictionary to hand,
but I'll look it up for some examples if you like. Here is the
definition of the word "ubhall" from Dineen's Irish-English
dictionary: (It is written in the old script, which I have transposed
without using the reformed spelling system): Page 1288:

"UBHALL, -AILL (genitive case), pl. UBHLA, (masc.) a ball or globe,
any globular object or member, a round fruit, specifically an apple; a
protuderence; the ball of a ball-and-socket joint (anat.), a
sword-pommel; a choice thing, choicest part..."

I'll send you the examples he gives if you like, from "crab-apples",
"the choicest part of the territory", through to a "thigh bone of

The word is also used generally to mean a bone-joint aswell, which I
suppose can be explained from a circular movement: "ull na huillinne"
would be the elbow joint, "ull na leise" or "ull an chromain" would be
the hip-joint.

I am pretty sure that similar definitions are used by our neighbours
in the Brythonic-Celtic languages in Wales and Brittany (and Cornish).

I was interested in your Chadic "bwal-" word too.

"Ball" (fem.) in Irish is used to mean any limb or "member" of a
body. Its prononciation would be close to your "bwal". Also used as
"place" or for a sort of "component part" of anything really. You can
use it to mean a tool or implement "ball uirlise" or "ball acra" for
exampe. (And yes, "implement" can mean what you might be thinking that
it might mean...). But, it can also mean "a spot", and I am wondering
if there is not some "globular etymology" here. "Ball broinne" is a
birthmark, from "ball" and the word for "womb". A mole on your skin
would be "ball dobhrain". If you were to say "ta ball ban ar an la" -
"there is a white 'member' on the day" you would mean that the day is
just dawning, just before sunrise.

((The "destabilization" of the maning of the apple word in Irish is
inter- esting, because the West Indo-European apple word is otherwise
exceptional for not going the Wilkins way.))
- --------------------------------------------------------------------
Joshua Katz, Harvard and Princeton:

It occurred to me that I might mention the case of the avocado. This
word has had a lot written about it, I know, but I have never quite
gotten a firm grasp on the details. In any case, I happened a few
months ago to be glancing at the latest edition of _The American
Heritage Dictionary of the English Language_ (3rd ed.), Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1992 when the rather lengthy "Word History" (a new
feature in this edition) for 'avocado' caught my eye. I quote here
the first sentence: "The history of _avocado_ takes us back to the
Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) word _ahuactal_, 'fruit of the
avocado tree' or 'testicle.'" You would have to check with an
Aztecanist about the relative primacy of these two meanings; I myself
cannot claim any knowledge of such details! I have not had a chance
to see whether the OED says anything similar, but thought I should
point this out to you sooner rather than later on the chance that it
has escaped your attention (not likely...).

((I use the occasion to refer interested parties to the following
forthcoming article, which, besides doing many other things, finally
builds a Wilkins bridge between Latin orbis 'curvature, circle, round
object' [e.g. 'eye(-ball)' in oculorum orbes (Ovidius)] and Greek
orkhis 'testicle':

Katz, Joshua T. t.a. "Testimonia ritus Italici: Male genitalia,
solemn declarations, and a new Latin sound law", Harvard Studies in
Classical Philology. [To appear in the 98 (1996) volume.]))
- ---------------------------------------------------------------------
Vern M. Lindblad, Washington:

This is not a direct answer to your query to Linguist List ... and
request for _Atlantic_ data. Indeed that origin seems somewhat
improbable to me, though I cannot definitively rule it out.

Instead, I think you might like to know an alternate theory of the
origin for the word _apple_ that I have long played around with.
Perhaps you are familiar with the city (until recently capital of
Kazakhstan) Alma Ata. The translation of this name is apparently
"father of the apple", and I have heard a long program on public radio
in which they talked about how there are more varieties of wild apples
in the mountains near Alma Ata than anywhere else in the world, so
that by standard biological diversity reasoning, it is quite likely
that apples originated in that locality. (One of the themes of the
radio program was warning that all the new luxury villas being built
in the outskirts of Alma Ata were resulting in cutting down many of
those wild apple trees, and thereby significantly diminishing the
world's storehouse of diversity of apple genes.)

Besides Kazakh _alma_, I know that the Turkish cognate word is _elma_
(sometimes used in linguistics contexts as a rare example of a native
word in Turkish that violates the normal division of words into either
front- or back-harmonic categories). I have not checked into other
Turkic or other Altaic languages to investigate how widespread
cognates are, but I assume that it goes back a long ways, partly
because of the unusual form in Turkish.

Given all this, there is still the problem of explicating and
justifying the metathesis and other phonological changes required to
convert _alma_ into _apple_.

Despite the problems of proving this origin for the word, I still feel
a certain fondness for my old theory of its origin, and am reluctant
to give it up. Nonetheless, I await with interest the results of your
further research.

I am copying this message to Altaic List, in the hope that someone
there may have some evidence to support or disprove my theory of the
origin of _apple_.

((I remember seeing some discussion of the analysis of Alma Ata but
unfortunately did not save it.))
- ------------------------------------------------------------------
Ronald Cosper, Halifax:

A fascinating question and one that raises questions about
Indo-European and its contacts or relationships with other phyla.

I have done some thinking about two sets of words. I did present a
paper to the North American Conference on Afroasiatic Linguistics on
one set of words (those for 'wheel', some of which mean 'ball'). ...

The words you refer to, such as phallos, ball, etc., generally are
reconstructed as *bhel in Indo-European. This word did have three
distinct meanings, however, and is given as three separate roots by
Watkins: *bhel 'to blaze or shine', *bhel 'to bloom or thrive', and
*bhel 'to swell, or blow'. The first meaning is seen in the ancient
Celtic holiday beltane 'the fires of bel' and in English blaze, black
(and Latin blancus!). The second is seen in roots such as latin
folium, Greek phyllos, Latin floris, German Blume. The third meaning
has etyma of ball, bull, ballocks, phallos, etc. Now I have always
felt there was an ideological or religious connection between these
terms. The Indo-Europeans presumably felt the sun was a masculine god
and the menhirs or erect stones were remnants of a phallic stage where
masculine sexuality became equated with fertility symbolism. (Seen
also in the els or obelisks of the Near East) I have also discovered
erect stones in Chadic speaking villages in Nigeria that are at least
2000 years old. Perhaps there is a tie-in to the God Baal, here, as

A problem in relating these to *abel is that the Proto-Indoeuropean
bhel is the aspirated voiced stop, although in the glottalic theory, I
believe this is interpreted as the plain voiced stop, while the
traditionally reconstructed *b of Indo-European is related to the
emphatic or glottalized 'b of Afroasiatic (see Bomhard.) However, if
your theory is correct, the words for 'apple' may have entered some of
the eastern Indoeuropean languages after some of the sound shifts had
taken place. I guess the apple word is found in Germanic, Baltic,
Celtic and Slavic.

My own research, incidentally, is on Chadic languages, which have
preserved the 'abol root for (male) genitalia. Hausa bura, for penis,
is from bula, in pre-Hausa, because /l/ in this position became /r/ in
modern Hausa. The Bura are also a Chadic speaking tribe in Nigeria,
and people tend to find their name embarassing. I'm not sure what it
means in Bura, but there is a root Chadic root baram which means
'men'. However, it is noteworthy, if not spectacular, that there are
also roots in Afroasiatic with similar meanings to the I-E ones. Orel
and Stolbova reconstruct 'abul for 'leaf' and 'Vbo' for 'light or to
shine'. *balag, perhaps a suffixed form, means 'to shine' and 'abal
means 'to be big or thick'. A word for 'horn' has been reconstructed
by O and S as baHal.

I suppose the term 'apple' may have been a euphemism for penis among
some Semites or earlier Afroasiatic people. Male circumcision was
general in North Africa and is still used by Chadic and Semitic
speakers, whereas it was not to my knowledge in Northern Europe. Does
the story in Genesis make a little more sense if your theory is
correct? Where Eve is tempted by the serpent and an apple? ...

I wish you the best of luck in your work on this most interesting
thesis. I have always felt there was a connection between such
phenomena as the VSO word order of Gaelic and many North African
languages, as well as the diffusion of megalithic culture from Africa
and the Mediterranean up the Atlantic coast. ...

((Extensive and heavy use is made of the root *bhel- 'blow, swell' in
the 1992 American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd
ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. [Electronic version, for Apple
Macintosh. Comprises Calvert Watkins's The American Heritage
Dictionary of Indo-European Roots of 1985.] In my view the problems of
considering the ball/phallos group Indo-European are immense.

"Does the story in Genesis make a little more sense if your theory is
correct? Where Eve is tempted by the serpent and an apple?"

I think so. There is even more to it. But I prefer not to give it all
away. There should remain a reason to read "Andromeda and the Apples
of the Hesperides."))
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