canis lupus whatisthis?
July 12, 2008 5:02 AM   Subscribe

What is the origin of the cross-linguistic "kutt"-like root for dog?

The word for dog in Hungarian is kutya. In Hindi/Urdu it is kutta. I assumed Hungarian had borrowed from Romani, which shares vocabulary with the North Indian languages. But this is not likely since the Romani of that region has a very different word for dog.

Further, I came upon this site, which, if you search on the page for "kutya" will give you a list of very similar words for dog in Slavic, Caucasian, Afro-Asiatic and other languages.

You can also look at item 72 here if you read Bulgarian, or just follow Cyrillic.

I paid close attention this morning to the mongrel waifs that hang around my street, and find it hard to believe that onomatopoeia is responsible. One may have been making a "kuch" like sound but I think he was throwing something up. Dogs were domesticated quite some time ago, but is it conceivable that one place, perhaps known for breeding dogs many thousand years ago, contributed the word to other languages?

I'm foxed. Explain.
posted by harhailla.harhaluuossa to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by kldickson at 6:52 AM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Stephen Fry claimed on QI that the english word "cat" comes from the Latin word for puppy, which was something like "catallus", meaning something like "little down(ward-facing thing)" and coming from Greek "kata", meaning down. If that's true, then these other languages may have picked up the Greek or Latin word for "puppy" and extended the usage to all dogs.

However, the American Heritage has the origin of "cat" as Germanic *kattuz, and Mirriam-Webster has Late Latin cattus, catta, and neither mentions a connection to any word for dog.
posted by squarehead at 6:59 AM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Never mind. That page you linked to implies that those words are related to Latin canis, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *kwon-. They may have come from the same suffixed zero grade, *kwn-to-, that gave us the word "hound".
posted by squarehead at 7:10 AM on July 12, 2008

Which is to say that they probably come from the very old word for "dog" that goes back as for as we know anything about, and is the origin of the word for dog in most Indo-European languages (like French "chien", German "hund", etc.).
posted by squarehead at 7:14 AM on July 12, 2008

That first link claims: Officially, Hungarian kutya derives from the sound of the animal's call. [Chong], FWIW
posted by wilko at 7:47 AM on July 12, 2008

Yeah, a lot of it is coincidence (certainly the Afro-Asiatic/East Cushitic and Dravidian forms are). It's impossible to know whether the Sino-Tibetan, Hunnic, and Caucasian words are related; they could all be from the same source or borrowed, but there's no way of knowing after all this time. The Hungarian word is only attested from the 16th century, long after the Hungarians left Siberia, so that one is definitely a coincidence, and probably onomatopoeic. In general, coincidence is a far, far greater factor in life in general and language in particular than most people are comfortable acknowledging; as humans, we crave meaning, and when we see two things that resemble each other we want very much for the resemblance to be significant. But very often it isn't.
posted by languagehat at 10:06 AM on July 12, 2008

I've realized that I totally missed the point of the question being the resemblance across different language families. I saw the mention of Romani, Hindi, and Bulgarian/Slavic languages (all Indo-European) and missed the mentions of Caucasian, Uralic, and Afro-Asiatic languages. I just wanted to own up to that.
posted by squarehead at 10:26 AM on July 12, 2008

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