Utus, a river name that means simply "water"?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by rbrunner, Oct 10, 2013.

  1. rbrunner Senior Member

    German - Switzerland
    Several sources say that there is a Thracian river name utus that derives from PIE roots/words *udos or *udes- "water", e.g. this one. The ultimate source might be a book that has an online copy here.

    The etymology seems ok to me, with a sound shift *d > t from PIE to Thracian that works for at least one more attested word, however few there are for Thracian.

    But does this really work out from a common sense point of view? I would understand a river with a name like black water or wild water, but simply water without any further qualifier? Isn't that like e.g. a mountain in England with a name of height, rock, or even simply mountain?

    Does anyone have a good hypothetical scenario how such a name could have developed, or know better attested and more recent similar examples?
  2. CapnPrep Senior Member

    I think it is quite common for river names to trace back to a word meaning simply "water" or "river". I mean, if that's where you get your water, and you say things like "go to the water", "put such and such in the water", etc., it doesn't seem that surprising for the place to end up being called "the water".

    Just looking at this Wikipedia article, it looks like the names of the rivers Axe, Exe, and Usk in England and Wales just mean "water", and the name of the river Avon just means "river".
  3. ancalimon Senior Member

    Maybe the name is related with Turkic üçüz (triplet) if the river is joined by three smaller rivers and the ancestors of those Bulgars or some people speaking Turkic among the migrating PIE people gave its name?

    That is of course if there are three rivers joining it. What is the name of the river today?

    Or maybe uç su (us< su)
    uç: fizzing, ebullient, spraying
    uç: frontier, border, boundary
    uç: cold
    su: water

    Another similar river name is Oxus. (Oq Su?)
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2013
  4. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    In Norwegian a lake is called simply "vann" (water) as a generic name.
  5. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    You have the famous Pendle Hill in Lancashire in England the name of which means hill-hill-hill in different languages: Pen is Cumbric for hill, the Anglo Saxons added hyll = hill and when pen hyll > pennul/penhul became opaque, another hill was added which eventually produced Pendle Hill.

    The most likely scenario is that a name is adopted speakers of a different language and they shorten it being unaware or simply ignoring that what is left has a different meaning (two examples cross my mind: Whisky < uisge beatha literally also just means water; in colloquial French, a duty free shop is sometimes abbreviated to free shop which of cause means something completely different) or a colloquial reference to a place being adopted as its official name in another language (example: Constantinople was colloquially simply referred to as ἡ Πόλις = the city and the modern name Istanbul is probably derived from the phrase εις την Πόλιν = to the city).
  6. Treaty Senior Member

    In case of city of Medina in Arabia, it is even in the same language, just abridged from madīnat al-nabī (=the city of the Prophet) to simply madīnah (=city).
    As for the rivers, probably Indus is the most famous one. It simply means "river" (*hindhu in Old Iranian, sindhu in Sanskrit).
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2013
  7. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    The name of the river Don is generally assumed to be from the Alanic ancestor of Ossetic /don/ “water, river”, the regular reflex of Indo-Iranian *dānu-.
  8. gburtonio Member

    UK, English
    Well, the name Rhine ultimately goes back (as does 'river') to *rey- from PIE, meaning 'flow' (same root as the final two syllables of 'diarrhoea', incidentally …). There's also a river in Italy called the 'Reno'. So I don't think it's that unusual.
  9. origumi Senior Member

    The Hebrew name for the Nile is Ha-Yeor = The River (most likely of foreign origin, maybe Egyptian) as demonstrated in Job 28:10, 2 Kings 19:24, Isaiah 37:25.
  10. inib

    inib Senior Member

    La Rioja, Spain
    British English
    And there's a River Fluviá in Catalonia.
  11. Maroseika Moderator

    Volga, the biggest river of the European part of Russia, is one more example, or better say three with a half examples at once:

    1st. The name Volga most likely refers to the ancient Baltic name of its upper reach - valka - forest rivulet.
    2nd. Its lower reach was mentioned by Ptolomaeus as Ra, usually compared with Sanscrit srava - a flow.
    3rd. Later Turks called its middle and lower reach Itil', cognate of Tatar idel' - big river.
    1/2nd of the example is Volga < Slavic vlaga (wet), the version which is not recongized anymore by most part of scholars.
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2013
  12. Ihsiin

    Ihsiin Senior Member

    There's also Torpenhow Hill in Cumbria, which is hill-hill-hill-hill.

    Surely abridged from المدينة المنورة, rather than from مدينتة النبي.
  13. rbrunner Senior Member

    German - Switzerland
    Thanks for this hilarious example, but unfortunately it seems to go one hill too far, i.e. may well be an urban legend of linguistics: See The debunking of Torpenhow Hill
  14. Anja.Ann

    Anja.Ann Senior Member

    Hi, Rbrunner :)

    Actually, the ancient "Utus" has become the "Vit" (Вит) which means "winding". :)
  15. rbrunner Senior Member

    German - Switzerland
    Interesting. Is this a coincidence? Until now I assumed that over the course of the last 2000 years the name/word utus developed into vit so that the etymology of the river name would be different from the (Bulgarian) common word vit, although of course this makes a wonderful folk etymology.
  16. Anja.Ann

    Anja.Ann Senior Member

    Hello again, Rbrunner :)

    Yes, a very intruiguing case.

    In my opinion, it's quite difficult to say whether the name of this river "Vit" developed from the ancient name (Utus) or was later changed because of its winding, sinuous course across the Balkans; incidentally, it flows into the Danube next to a town (village?) called Somovit.


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