or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, August 14, 2009

Heaven Sent

Just try to guess where the word "paradise" comes from. You'll never guess!

I certainly didn't. I didn't expect to get the second half, necessarily, but the first half seemed pretty obvious: Greek "para-" usually means either "beyond" or "beside" in English, as in "paranormal", something which goes beyond the bounds of ordinary experience, and "paramilitary", a militarily trained group of civilians which operates alongside (but subordinate to) the actual military. Perhaps "paradise" was beyond the Earth?

Well, it might be, but that's not where the word comes from, because its form is deceptive. It looks like "para-", but it isn't, at all. It's actually related to Greek "peri-", "around", as in "perimeter", the measurement around something, and "periscope", a device that lets us see around obstacles. But "paradise" doesn't originate from Greek (although it did of course work its way through Greek before it got to us): it comes from an Avestan word, "pairidaeza", "to build a wall around", which then entered the Iranian language (Avestan is an old Iranian tongue). The "around" part is "pairi", which, as we can see, is related to Greek "peri-". The second half, which I knew I'd never be able to guess and was right about, is from Indo-European "dheigh-", "to form, to build".

Greek took the word "pairadaeza" as "paradeisos", which meant a kind of walled-in park and only later an actual Paradise. Latin, of course, later took the word as "paradisus", French ended up with "paradis" (which it still has--why mess with a good thing?), and English got "paradise" out of the deal.

"Dheigh-" is very interesting, and I can't believe I haven't mentioned it before, so I'll try to get to it tomorrow, though you know me. No promises.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not that this is on topic to the post, but my mind wandered across this:

Why is it that in English, C is pronounced largely as /s/ when word initial, and followed by E or I (Celt and derivatives are notable exceptions)? I feel like blaming French for this, but then, I blame French for everything.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 5:06:00 PM  

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