Korean babo, Sicilian babbo, Portuguese/Spanish bobo

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Youngfun, Apr 7, 2013.

  1. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Bắc Kinh
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    They all mean "silly, fool". Are they related or just coincidence?

    In some Italian dialects (e.g. Tuscany) babbo means "dad", in others (e.g. Sicilian) it means "stupid". :D
    In Spanish speaking countries, the exception is Peru, where bobo means "heart".

    Could it be possible that at least Portuguese, Spanish and Sicilian words are related?

    Probably the Korean word is not related.
    But then I have a silly (;)) theory: maybe it's a human instinct that /bVbV/ sounds make people think about silliness?
    In Italian there are similar words too, like babbeo and babbione. Or even babbuino (lit. "baboon").

    Or, taking only the b sound: French bête (lit. beast), Japanese baka, Chinese 笨 pronounced bèn /pən/ in Mandarin, but probably with a /b-/ sound in Middle Chinese, and pronounced /baŋ/ in my Wu dialect.
  2. Treaty Senior Member

    Well, to complete your list, in Persian babu means stupid. Personally, I think it is onomatopoeic. As someone who has speech problem may use a lot of "b" like sounds. Unfortunately, the lack of speech ability was considered stupidity in older days.
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2013
  3. Triginta Septem Member

    Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
    English - America
    Baba in Farsi, I believe. I'd say it could be a borrowing, maybe.

    Baba/babo often means father, old lady/grandmother, baby, and cake. Its interesting that the list is so long, and that the same meanings are so common (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/baba), but aside from a few cognates, it's all just chance. Also, isn't there a Chinese word Baishi or Baichi or something?
  4. Treaty Senior Member

    bābā (MPers. pāpa = father) is probably an original Persian word, cognate of Greek papas. (short for pater/pitar)
    babu (papu, pape in some dialects) means silly. I don't know anything about its etymology.
  5. rbrunner Senior Member

    German - Switzerland
    I have just a little tidbit to add: The Filipinos seemed to like Spanish bobo for stupid, because they borrowed this word with that meaning into their languages there.

    I would also suspect that some onomatopoeia is at work here: Something like "bobo" really does sound stupid in a certain way, if you ask me.

    In Swiss German children's language bobo means little wound.
  6. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    "Babbo" in the familial sense (also babba in many languages and babushka in Russian) seems unlikely to be related to "babbo" in the sense of stupid.

    According to the DRAE, "bobo" derives from L. balbus, "bumbling". Aulete assigns the same origin to Portuguese "bobo", and even seems to regard it as a loan from Spanish. However, Priberam says the origin is uncertain.

    I can't help wondering if there's any connection between this word and the better known Portuguese loan dodo. Perhaps not, as in the original Portuguese the latter has a diphthong in the first syllable (doudo; currently doido).
  7. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Bắc Kinh
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    Thank you, guys. Your contributions are all interesting.
    You mean 白痴 baichi. Here the core part of the compound is chi which means "silly, stupid". Bai means "white". But don't ask me why we say "white stupid"...

    About the Spanish bobo meaning "heart" in some regions, it's also written in our dictionary:
    (Cono Sur) (=corazón) heart, ticker (informal)
    Rather a strange meaning shift, I say.

    Babà or babbà is a pastry typical of Naples, Italy. According wikipedia, its names comes form the Polish babka ponczowa (grandma's dessert), from babka (old woman).
    In Malaysia, baba is a term to address men, similar to "sir".
  8. sotos Senior Member

    There may be a relation between bobo meaning "stupid" in unrelated languages, through onomatopoia. Also in Greek there is the word "Boufos" which metaphorically means "stupid", but literally means the bird Bubo bubo (http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Bubo_bubo/ ). This bird makes a "buuu" sound in the night. Possibly it has some characteristics reminding of stupid persons. However, it is relative to the Atena noctua, the symbol of wisdom in ancient Greece.
  9. Triginta Septem Member

    Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
    English - America
    Well that's ironic... ^^
  10. Sempervirens Senior Member

  11. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Baba is a Polish word that has many meanings, with two main semantic groups:

    1. Baba= old woman, grandmother (nowadays babka), woman (pejoratively)
    2. Baba= a physical object (usually bulky or heavy), a weight used to hit poles into ground, a cake (nowadays babka).
    (I don’t know if there is any etymological link between them, but it’s possible.)
    The name of cake (baba, babka) has no direct connection to the meaning of grandmother, so the claim that babka ponczowa = grandma's dessert is simply wrong.
  12. CitizenEmpty Senior Member

    English & Korean
    Babo (바보) in Korean originally meant a person who does nothing but eat, I.E. a stupid person. It's originally 밥보. 밥 means food or rice. 보 is a native Korean suffix for designating a person for a certain characteristics. (For example, 울보. It is 울 + 보. Or "crying + er" in crude English. Therefore 울보 means a crybaby in Korean.)
  13. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    You have the word "babble" in English, and Ancient Greek "barbaros" which mean the same. It must be onomatopoeic. From "babling" to "stupidity" the way is short.
    The "b" can be devoiced, and become for example "paplac" like in Polish.
  14. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    USA Northeast
    Bobo has come to mean in French something radically different: Bourgeois-Bohème. It's a person who while very much being a materialistic yuppie, well to do and loving all the material comforts his money can buy, is likewise a strong socialist, ecologist, liberal, libertine, hedonist, secularist and lover of the arts, counterculture, non-European cultures and dangerous decaying neighborhoods. The contrast is the crux of their identity. The sense can be both positive and negative.

    I remember a certain type of funny clown (circus look/ Ronald McDonald type) being called bobo in the US. Now that I think of it, it might actually have developed from the first name of this clown. Get bobo to come cheer up the kids...

    So, I really don't think there is anything intrinsic about the sound Bo or Ba that would lead to a certain meaning developing. It's a simple sound to make so it must be redoubled and present in lots of different language groups.
  15. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    After a while I recalled that a retarded person was called "ebe" or "ebe-ebe" in the street urchin language of the town I grew up in Poland.
  16. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Wiki is misleading about the babà or babbà etymology. Babka (noun) ponczowa (adj., from "poncz" = "punch") means "punch cake", not "grandma's dessert", and I'm not sure whether "babka" meaning "cake" (actually, a specific kind of cake) is related to babka in the meaning "old woman".
    My sources state the Polish king Stanislaw Leszczinski named it after Ali Baba...
  17. bearded

    bearded Senior Member

    Sicilian babbo=stupid may well go back to a Spanish influence, since there was a long Spanish (Aragonese) domination over Sicily centuries ago.
  18. porkkanaraaste Member

    Finnish pöpi means crazy, stupid person.

    Greek boufos reminds me of Finnish pöllö which means both 'owl' and 'stupid'. There´s also a similar sounding word, pöljä, which means 'stupid'.
  19. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    This is correct.

    This is a fairy tale.

    Actually the word "baba" has two root meanings:
    1. An old woman --> grandmother. Later developed to "babka" (grandmother). Still later "babka" began to mean both "grandmother" and "a woman of any age" and even "an attractive woman", while "baba" changed the meaning to "old woman, hag, a bothering female".
    2. A massive object, a clot, later a large object used to drive piles into ground, and also a cake (a clot of dough).

    It is not known if the two meaning families have any common origin.
  20. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Thanks for the spelling correction (sometimes I get it right, sometimes not - interferences) and the additional information.

    I thought nowadays you say "babcia" for grandmother.
  21. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Babcia is a word used by children or to children (like abuelita in Spanish), or among family members, or to the grandmother. When I speak to an adult person outside my family, I use the word babka speaking about my late grandmother, especially to a stranger.

    It may be easier if you remember that the digraph cz is never followed by an "i" in Polish, only "y".
    The same applies to "ż", "sz", "dż", "rz" and "ch".
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 3, 2014
  22. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Bắc Kinh
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    In Italy there is ebete!

    Thanks! Now I know the true etymology! I thought it was onomatopoeic.
    In Chinese there is a very similar insult: 饭桶, lit. rice container, with the same meaning.

    And in Italian balbettare, and you have reminded me the original meaning of "barbaros". Interesting.
  23. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Technically I know that it is just the opposite of Russian spelling rules (despite the same pronunciation - except for ch), but knowing is one thing and applying the knowledge is another one.
  24. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Because you got rid of all mute Latin & Greek h (except in avere conjugation), you may not be aware that in French there's the verb hébéter.
  25. Perseas Senior Member

    "babo" or "vavo" exists in Greek and means "old woman" or "grandmother". It's dialectal, not common today, probably from Slavic.

    οbos" is a name used in jokes (and not in real life) to denote a not so clever boy.
    Last edited: May 10, 2014
  26. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    It is from Latin "hebes" (fool).
  27. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Bắc Kinh
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    As a funny coincidence, I thought that the French cognate was bête lol. But I think that actually means beast.
  28. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    It does. Look at the ê, it marks the lack of historic "s".
  29. francisgranada Senior Member

    The Hungarian words buta, bamba, balga, bárgyú, bunkó mean stupid (or related to it). Conclusion: the sound "b" seems to be strongly related to the idea of stupidity in human languages :)...
  30. Sempervirens Senior Member

    Youngfun, per quanto riguarda la parola giapponese baka 馬鹿 ばか credo che , secondo il modo di pensare di queste popolazioni, la stupidità umana sia in qualche modo messa in relazione con il cavallo( nobilissimo, intelligentissimo animale n.d.a).
    Niente a che vedere con supposti balbettii allora. Ma posso anche sbagliarmi.
    Il cavallo però non balbetta, nitrisce.

    Ora, sapendo che in queste lande quando si comunica , si pensa e si parla e si scrive si utilizzano gli ideogrammi importati dalla Cina, mi viene spontaneo pensare che anche in Cina per dare dello stupido a una persona si tiri ancora una volta in ballo il cavallo. È così oppure ho preso un abbaglio?

    Ironicamente, la spiegazione che ci dà Wikipedia sulla parola baka , in relazione a cavallo, tenderebbe a significare la non individualità di questo animale.,e quindi giustificherebbe il (presupposto) nesso semantico.

    In fatto di individualità ci sarebbe tanto da discutere...

    Last edited: May 18, 2014

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