2 of 2
Origin of ALBACORE (tunafish)
Posted: 27 November 2010 11:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
Total Posts:  70
Joined  2010-11-02

The word ALBATROSS denotes a bird, or family of bird species, native to the South Pacific. The word provides a concrete example of the etymology methods relied on by the dictionaries that are the same as the methods for ALBACORE. But ALBATROSS is also a case where the original standard story was replaced by a new and different standard story, and the change in the story makes the methods easier to see. Here’s the story [bracketed additions by me] :

“Albatross" descends from Arabic الغطّاس al-ghaṭṭās, literally “the diver”, presumably a cormorant or similar pelecaniform bird [most of which are plunge-diving waterbirds]. In modern Arabic al-ghaṭṭās is a grebe [a diving waterbird] [and it also means a human skin-diver]. The derived Spanish alcatraz is attested 1386 as a type of pelican.{ref} The albatross family of birds was unknown to both Arabs and Europeans in the medieval era. ‘’Alcatras’’ was in English in the 16th century with the same meaning as the Spanish and did not include albatross birds.{ref} Beginning in the 17th century, every European language adopted the word “albatros” with a ‘b’ for these birds, the ‘b’ having been mobilized from Latinate alba = white.{ref} [IMPORTANT] FOOTNOTE: Spanish alcatraz = pelican is presumed by all to be from an Arabic word, but which word isn’t very clear [since the Arabic word for pelican was a different word]. On looking at candidate words, Arabic al-ghaṭṭās = “the diver”, implies some pelecaniform bird, is the one reported by Concise OED, American Heritage, Merriam-Webster, and CNRTL.fr. The candidate proposed by Skeat (1888), Weekley (1921) and Partridge (1966) [and still in Webster’s New World Dictionary (2010) but not in any other of today’s dictionaries] is Arabic al-qādūs = “bucket of a water wheel (hopper)” gives the Portuguese ‘’alcatruz’’ well-documented with the same meaning, which then putatively gives Portuguese and Spanish alcatraz = “a pelican with a bucket-like beak”. Spanish & Portuguese alcatraz also applied, albeit not in its earliest attestation, to cormorants and frigatebirds, which are pelecaniform birds with no deep beak (Partridge, Weekley) [which undermines semantic case for ‘’al-qādūs’’ which was already tenuous]. [Incidentally another item supporting al-ghaṭṭās: Phonetically, the fact that ‘’al-qādūs’’ (the bucket) is certainly the progenitor of ‘’alcatruz’’ (the bucket), lends phonetic support to the view that al-ghaṭṭās can readily be the progenitor of ‘’alcatraz’’.] Ayto (2005) says alcatraz is “clearly of Arabic origin” but which Arabic word is “much more dubious”. Source.

The method is: (1) presume an Arabic parent for the Sp/Pt word, (2) find phonetic candidates in Arabic dictionaries, (3) imagine how the phonetic candidates might be associated semantically with the target Sp/Pt, (4) go with the best candidate. The method delivered a very plausible, acceptable result for ALBATROSS in the end, in my view.

But not for ALBACORE. I say there’s no word in Arabic that can generate the Sp/Pt ‘’albacora’’ with decent plausibility. There’s no word in the Arabic of recent centuries. The vocabulary of late medieval written Arabic is very close to that of 19th century written Arabic.

2 of 2