Delirium. Is OED correct?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by sotos, Feb 9, 2012.

  1. sotos Senior Member

    In the other thread about delirium (which closed before it matures, I think) a fellow posted from OED that it comes from " L. delirium "madness," from deliriare "be crazy, rave," lit. "go off the furrow," a plowing metaphor, from phrase de lire, from de "off, away" + lira "furrow, earth thrown up between two furrows," from PIE *leis- "track, furrow."
    But the word seems to be the latinized Gr. para-lerema (with the same meaning) found in Plato, Aristoteles and many other classical texts.
    This para- corresponds to the L. de- as in para-morphosis > de-formation.
    The origin is the v. ληρέω (to be foolish or silly, speak or act foolishly), found in Sophocles (497-406 BC), in Trachiniae which is considered one of his early works.*l:entry+group=31:entry=lhre/w
    Thus, unless we have an evidence that by Sophocles' time this word was a loan from Latin (most unlikely), I suppose OED is wrong.
    What do you thing about it?
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2012
  2. CapnPrep Senior Member

    Your argument is that Greek cannot have borrowed the word from Latin, so Latin must have borrowed it from Greek. Why can't Latin and Greek, which are independent languages, simply have developed two, etymologically unrelated words for this concept? And, let's say for the sake of argument that delirium was a calque of παραλήρημα. Why did Latin translate the prefix παρα-, but not the root ληρ-? Latin has no shortage of words for foolishness…

    The metaphor behind delirium is rather straightforward, and furthermore the verb delirare and the base noun lira both exist in Latin with non-metaphorical meanings ("deviate from a straight line" and "furrow", respectively) that have no connection with ληρέω.

    That said, etymology is not genetics, and a single word can have more than one origin, and speakers will spontaneously invent their own connections to other words that they know. Ernout & Meillet point out that deliro often appears as delero in Latin texts, and this can be explained either as a folk-etymological influence from Greek ληρέω, or as a dialectal (Oscan) pronunciation of this rural/agricultural term.

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