Origin of big cats names in Indo-Iranian

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Treaty, Apr 20, 2013.

  1. Treaty Senior Member


    A difference between Indo-Iranian (II) and European branches of IE family can be found in the names of pantherae members (big cats). Understandably, there is almost no genuine words in European IE. While in II (Sanskrit/Persian) there are many: vyaaghra (tiger, babr), simha (sheer), prdaku (palang, leopard), cheetah (yuz). My question is what are the roots of these names? Can any of them be originated in Pre-Aryan languages?

    They are my guesses:
    : I read somewhere that Pali (~400BCE) said it was related to sense of smell.
    simha : all, power? Is it cognate with Persian sheer?
    prdaku? (and also dvipin)
    cheetah : citra(?) : diverse(?)

    In addition, there were lions in Greece until 1st CE. Did the Greek have any words for it except the non-IE leo-? What about Hittites, Phrygians?

  2. Wolverine9 Senior Member

    American English
    chiitaa (cheetah) is from Skt. chitraka- "(a type of) leopard", from the base chitra- "variegated." yuuz is believed to be of Turkic origin. For the other II words, there is no consensus on the origin, but a leading theory is that they were borrowed from a pre-Aryan, unknown language(s), likely in Central Asia. siMha- and shiir appear to be borrowings from the same source, but perhaps from different dialects, which would explain the phonetic differences. Mayrhofer, Edrosy, and Witzel, among others, hypothesize that these words may originate in the BMAC civilization (Bactria-Margiana), which was likely a source of cultural influence on the Aryans (and where the *sauma- rituals seem to have originated) and located in a region that the Aryans passed through.

    The Hittite word for lion was walwa-, which may be related to the Greek leon. Both are of obscure origin, with some presuming an Afro-Asiatic source and others a derivation from an IE *lew- "lion."
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2013
  3. Treaty Senior Member

    Many thanks.

    A Turkic origin for yuuz is not convincing. Turkic influence on Persian mainly started during Seljuk dynasty (or say earlier during Ghaznavids). While yuuz had been used earlier in Roudaki's and Farrokhi's poems and extensively in Ferdowsi's Shahnameh (this was contemporary to Ghaznavid). It's also worthy to mention that cheetah probably never lived in Turkic regions of Transoxiana or north China (although, different types of leopard did). In addition, McKenzie's Pahlavi dictionary mentions yoz.
  4. Wolverine9 Senior Member

    American English
    OK, I stand corrected about yuuz. It can be traced back to OPers. yavaza- "leopard."
  5. ancalimon Senior Member

    "yuuz" is not a Turkic word as far as I know. Leopard was yulbars probably meaning something like "striped - snake patterned pars".
    The "yul" part could also be related with the word yıldız meaning "star". Maybe the "leo" part of leopard was also related with something about stars in ancient times.

    It was believed that animals like these (leopard, wolf, lion) came to this earth on a star (yıldız) via lightning (yıldırım). That's why for example börüg (wolf) might be related with par (shine) which should be some ancient shared word (maybe also related with fire?) (The word börüg was a taboo and the word kurt was used instead so as not to wake the rage of the wolf - lightning)

    What I wonder is whether the name Persian is related with this word or not. (them being seen as fire worshipers in old times)
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2013
  6. Treaty Senior Member

    Thank you all.
  7. sotos Senior Member

    The panther can be etymologized from Greek pan (all) and ther (to hunt, prey). Some big cats were present in Asia Minor till early 20th century.
  8. Wolverine9 Senior Member

    American English
    That's a folk etymology. Panther was loaned into Greek from another language.
  9. sotos Senior Member

    Which language?
  10. sotos Senior Member

    Is it too far-fetched to assume that Latin feles (cat) is cognate to Gr. θηρ (wild animal)? Τhe spanish fiera (wild animal) and the Gr. θηρίον give food to this assumption. I cannot think of any other θ-f equivalence between greek and latin(*), but is compulsory from greek to russian.

    (*) A possible candidate is αιθήρ (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aalphabetic+letter%3D*a%3Aentry+group%3D47%3Aentry%3Dai%29qh%2Fr ) - aura (pronounced avra).
  11. asanga Member

    What do you mean by pre-Aryan: proto-Indo-Aryan, proto-Indo-European, or "pre-Aryan invasion" non-IE languages? Using words for plants and animals to track the supposed migrations of IE is a popular but problematic pastime. It's also a source of great controversy in India, because the paucity of words for "tropical" animals like big cats vs. well-established proto-IE roots for more "northern" predators like wolves, jackals, and bears is often used as evidence for the Aryan invasion theory. AFAIK only 2 proto-IE roots for big cats have been reconstructed:

    *singhos, Sanskrit siṃha, Τοcharian A śiśak, Tocharian B ṣecake, Armenian inc/inj,
    *perd, Sanskrit pṛdāku, Sogdian pwrđnk, Greek párdalis, Persian palang, Pashto pṛāng

    It's also believed Sanskrit puṇḍarīka and Greek pánthēr may be related.

    Sanskrit grammarians provide derivations from verbal roots for all Sanskrit nouns. These derivations were never intended as diachronic etymologies, and historical linguistics considers many of them spurious, a sophisticated form of folk etymology. Even in cases where historical linguistics would reject the traditional Sanskrit derivation, the words may nonetheless have proto-IE or proto-II roots; for example siṃha, pṛdāku, and puṇḍarīka. None appear to be loan-words from Dravidian or other non-IE languages:

    citraka - as mentioned, from citra "variegated" +ka

    pṛdāku - from parda "downwards flowing air"+kāku "cry of distress", in turn derived from √pṝ "to fill with air, to blow" and √kak "to be unsteady", "One who howls with the downward breath"

    puṇḍarīka - from √puṇ "to be virtuous, to achieve honor"+ikan. The red lotus, which is said to be more noble than other flowers, is therefore called "the one who achieves honor". Hence the tiger "One whose color is like the puṇḍarīka"

    vyāghra - derived from vi+ā+√ghrā "to smell"+ka, "one who scents out, who tracks by smell".

    śārdūla - from √śṝ "to kill (game)"+ulac "One who kills game". Maybe related to شير?

    siṃha - from √sic "to sprinkle, to scatter"+ka, "one who sprinkles, scatters [his splendor amongst the beasts]". Monier-Williams suggests a derivation from √sah "to prevail, be victorious".

    hari - from √hṛ "to seize, to carry away", "One who seizes, carries away."

    And of course there also many poetical words, like śekharin ("He who has a mane"), mṛgendra ("Lord of beasts"), etc.
  12. sotos Senior Member

    Are you saying that this is an acceptable etymology of panther or that this is an example of sophisticated folk etymology?
  13. asanga Member

    I just provided the traditional derivations without commentary; in this case it seems very weak. The color of a tiger's coat looks nothing like a red lotus. I suspect puṇḍarīkaḥ (masc.) "panther" is a loan word from some unknown language, which merged with puṇḍarīkam (neuter) "red lotus" due to phonetic matching. Grk. pánthēr may be borrowed from the same unknown source.

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