Etymology: koufos/kof


Senior Member

I'll keep the question simple without going into more depth, but hoping the question lead serious and wide discussions. :)

In Elifin Öküzü ya da Sürprizler Kitabı, Mr. Nişanyan notes the similarity between Greek koufos (κοῦφος) and Turkish kof, which both mean "hollow, empty, etc."

He inquires how these strikingly similar words could exist in both ancient Turkish and ancient Greek asking "Could these two words be related? Is it just a coincidence or could these ancient peoples have a relationship that we do not know about today?", and he leaves these questions unanswered.

So, what do you folks think?
  • I wouldn't attach much significance to it. There are always bound to be a handful of words that are similar in totally unrelated languages. Historical linguistics is a minefield for the unwary.
    Well, he also notes that the probability for two languages, which don't have any borrowed words and are unrelated, having the same word with the same meaning has a chance of 1 out of 150 million having words with three letters and 1 out of 6 billion of the words having four letters.
    Cappadocian could be what you are looking for. It's an ancient Greek-Turkish language that might be the linguistic link between those peoples and where kof/κοῦφος comes from.
    I agree with palomnik about chance resemblances -- here's an article that explains why having chance resemblances like this are what you'd expect.

    But I'll also note that κοῦφος doesn't mean "hollow, empty" -- it's main meaning is "light" (opposite of "heavy"), although in a comprehensive dictionary I did see that it was used with the word for "jar" to mean "empty" but that's an easy development of the "light" meaning, and I'd be suspicious of any claims of connections based on these kind of minor secondary meanings. But I couldn't find any use of the word to mean "hollow" though. I'd vote for coincidence in this case.

    ETA: I didn't put two and two together before, but I just realized and checked that ancient κοῦφος gave modern κούφιος (koufios) which does mean "hollow", but I'm not sure if that changes anything.

    I am getting more curious about Mr. Nişanyan than about a possible relation between the two words. The rethoric question he asked is quite a silly one (reminds me of Mr. Berlitz suggestive way of writing), and his mathematics on chance resemblances are, how can I put it mildly, wrong.
    I googled for his name and I found this online etymological dictionary. I might be a bit too skeptical, but after what I read, Mr. Nişanyan's work doesn't strike me as the most reliable source.


    pingu89 said:
    Cappadocian could be what you are looking for. It's an ancient Greek-Turkish language
    If you mean the Cappadocian ‘dialect’ of Modern Greek --

    a language that was heavily influenced by Turkish until its extirpation from Cappadocia following the Lausanne Agreement of 1923 stipulating a compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey

    -- it could hardly be called a “Greek-Turkish language”. You just can’t mix two structurally different languages together in a cocktail shaker and voilà, out comes an entirely new linguistic concoction.

    Furthermore, what is “ancient” in this context? Greek and Turkish only came in contact with each other from the 11th century – especially after the Battle of Manzikert (1071), even if Turkic tribes certainly entered Anatolia some time before that.

    Cappadocian Greek[sic] adapted not only vocabulary, but also a wide range of other features from its linguistic environment [i.e. Turkish], but unfortunately the language is nearly extinct. Recently, some few second generation speakers (outside its original ‘habitat’) were discovered in a Greek village. Whatever new material can be gleaned from these informants would add to our relatively scarce knowledge of Cappadocian Greek (which is primarily known through R.M. Dawkins’ Modern Greek in Asia Minor from 1916).

    :warning:However, Cappadocian Greek would not add a iota to the question raised in this thread. I also entirely agree with palomnik and modus.irrealis as to “not attaching much significance to [chance resemblances]”.

    In addition to the article recommended by modus.irrealis, here is another one which may be slightly more accessible:
    :) :)
    A propos Frank06's posting which I didn’t see before I posted my own:

    Being a hotel director does not prevent you from acquiring impressive knowledge in many different languages – in fact, it may even help you. And yet, no customers would come up with pre-13th century Turkish. Nişanyan’s etymological dictionary may be consulted - it may even be a practical tool! :warning:But you should take the information you find with a pinch of salt. Gerard Clauson’s An Etymological Dictionary of Pre-13th Century Turkish is an impeccable piece of scholarship, but extremely difficult to use, and has indeed been misused by many. It seems obvious that Nişanyan is using it; perhaps he is more critical than many others.:D

    What is more “dangerous” would be to pick up too many ideas from another Turkish etymological dictionary written by another Armenian, a book which was edited around 100 years ago. The latter is so fantastic that I have forgotten the name of the author. It is probably the only book in print – it was recently reprinted! – which uses some 15 different alphabets. Impressive? Not at all! An etymological dictionary is not a display of alphabets.

    For the time being several Turkish etymological dictionaries are available – one only reached the sixth letter of the alphabet (A-E) when the author died. This plethora of material makes it easier for dilettanti to produce their own books. One interesting detail with Nişanyan’s book is that he consistently gives the Arabic root of Arabic loanwords in Turkish. That is a help for users who don’t know any Arabic. Some etymological dictionaries don’t even mention these loanwords – probably because they have been sufficiently treated by a Polish scholar, or perhaps because they are not particularly cherished by Turkish scholars...

    When it comes to this thread, etymological dictionaries are not a primary source.
    :) :)