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Lagavulin
Posted: 20 March 2008 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Hi guys, and many greetings from Greece. Etymology is one of my beloved hobbies, and I have over the years made contributions to http://www.behindthename.com. I have also recently launched http://www.etymologica.com, a work in progress, dedicated to the origin of Greek names.

My question stems from a bottle of Lagavulin single malt whisky I was offered by a friend a few days ago. At the risk of sounding like the father character in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” I have a nagging suspicion that Lagavulin has a Greek connection to it! Let me explain: according to the company itself, Lagavulin is derived from the Gaelic Lag a’ Mhuilinn, meaning “hollow of the mill”. 

Mhuilinn is most definitely related to mill which is related related to the Greek myle (source:  http://www.etymonline.com).

Let us now turn to the origin of lag. Could it be related to laguna which is related to the Greek lakkos ("pit, tank, pond” - http://www.etymonline.com), or perhaps to the the Greek lagkadi / lagkos, meaning valley or cavity? (source: Greek Dictionary, Tegopoulos and Fytrakis).

I would appreciate if someone with additional resources could corroborate or refute my suspicion!

Later,

P.

[ Edited: 20 March 2008 08:33 AM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 20 March 2008 09:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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My question stems from a bottle of Lagavulin single malt whisky I was offered by a friend a few days ago.

You have a treasured friend, indeed!

Regarding the etymology, it sounds like a bit of a stretch to me.  A question you haven’t addressed is How would the name have gotten from Greece to Scotland except by the strands of Indo-European detritus they share (lag, loch, lake, lagoon, lakkos etc).

Anyway, welcome to this discussion.  Greek origins for words comes up many times in our conversations and it would be good to have you in the middle of things.

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Posted: 20 March 2008 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I note that Pavlos is careful to say “related to”, not “derived from”.  The notion that the words share, as Oeco suggests, a common PIE root, doesn’t seem too far-fetched, although a quick browse at AHD didn’t turn up any obvious candidate (OTOH, someone like languagehat, with more knowledge of the regular sound changes, might have more success than I did).  But “mill”, at least, has cognates all over the place: the OED etymology lists 19 different languages (not even counting Old, Middle, and modern as separate) among the Germanic, Romance and Slavonic branches of the IE group, and I doubt that’s exhaustive.  So the fact that Greek, too, has a related word is not particularly remarkable.

Being offered a bottle of Lagavulin--that’s remarkable.

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Posted: 20 March 2008 11:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Indeed. It’s a common error to assume that a correspondence in sound means the words are related. This is usually not the case. For one thing, there are lots of spurious and coincidental similarities between languages. For another, if the root is very old, one would expect the modern words would not resemble one another--there would have been intervening sound changes. By examining the potential sound changes, which occur in repeatable patterns, a trained etymologist can determine a likely relationship.

I doubt very strongly there is any relation here, other than perhaps shared IE roots.

That said, I do, however, have a Gaelic etymological dictionary that says that lag, meaning pit or hollow, is related (not derived from) the Greek λυγιςω, meaning bend. But again, this is simply a distant relationship and doesn’t point to Greek influence in the Scottish distilling industry. I can’t find a connection with the other roots in the name.

Also, another thing to be careful about is what the marketing department claims about the etymology and history of its brands. Naming decisions are usually not well-documented and even a year or two after the fact few people can give accurate information about the origins of brand names. Often, particularly with old and well-established brands, a mythology develops around them and current employees, while often well intentioned, have difficulty in separating fact from myth. And then there are cases where the marketing departments just make up a story that sounds good.

In this case, I note there is another lag root in Gaelic that means drop, as in “a drop of the real Mackay.” This root, which has no Greek connection in my dictionary, seems to me to be a likely candidate as well. There is no guarantee that a modern Lagavulin label accurately reflects the origin of the name. The distillers, rightly so, focus on creating the best whisky in the world* and not on etymology.

* = Lagavulin happens to be my Scotch of choice. But it’s not often that I shell out the money to drink it.

[ Edited: 20 March 2008 12:26 PM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 20 March 2008 12:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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At the risk of sounding like the father character in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” I have a nagging suspicion that Lagavulin has a Greek connection to it!

As Dr. T says, the fact that a word in an Indo-European language has “a Greek connection” (in the sense of a possible cognate in Greek) is not at all remarkable.  But you have to be careful in looking for cognates.  Apparent cognates are often cases of borrowing or simple coincidence.

Mhuilinn is most definitely related to mill

Actually, no, it’s not.  Muileann (the correct nominative) is from Old Irish mulenn, which is a borrowing of Latin molina, as are all the Germanic (e.g., English mill) and Slavic words.  So Irish muileann is “related” to English mill in much the same way that Irish Ioslamach is “related” to English Islamic—that is to say, not very interestingly.

As for lag, it may well be related to λυγιςω, but since they’re both Indo-European languages, that’s not a big deal.

Where you do risk sounding like the father character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding is at your website.  I like the idea, but I would urge you to be much stricter about your etymologies.  You seem to be accepting anything that looks vaguely plausible as long as it’s Greek, even when the results are silly:

Ἀδριανός, Adrianos, Adrian: Firm. From a-, negative prefix, and dro, to act.

Not only is it not from Greek roots, it’s not even a Greek name; as Behind the Name says, it’s

From the Roman cognomen Hadrianus, which meant “from Hadria” in Latin. Hadria was a town in northern Italy (it gave its name to the Adriatic Sea).

You say:

Ἂδωνις, Adonis: He who sings, name of a god. From ado, to sing.

No, it’s a borrowing from Semitic Adonai ‘lord.’ You need to stop trying to make everything as Greek as possible and start taking etymology more seriously if you want your site to be as valuable as it could be.

Oh, and I totally agree with Oeco, Dr. T, and Dave about the bottle of Lagavulin (is there a connection between love of words and love of Islay malts?)—a munificent gift indeed!  I used to buy the stuff until it hit $40/bottle; now it’s way past $50.  Sigh.

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Posted: 20 March 2008 01:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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LH writes:

Mhuilinn is most definitely related to mill

Actually, no, it’s not.

And then goes on to show that actually yes, it is.  Just not in a particularly interesting way.  But there is a difference between “not interesting or surprising” and “nonexistent”.

[ Edited: 20 March 2008 01:31 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 20 March 2008 02:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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No, actually it’s not, in the usual linguistic sense of “related” (which implies genetic connection).  Borrowed words are not evidence of linguistic relationship.

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Posted: 20 March 2008 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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So ketchup is “not related” to kê-tsiap?  That’s the first time I recall hearing that particular restriction on the meaning “related” invoked here, and although I understand its application to languages as a whole (the existence of that pair does not mean that Chinese and English are related), its application to individual words that clearly derive from a common ancestor seems paradoxical to the point of perversity.

[ Edited: 20 March 2008 02:37 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 20 March 2008 05:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Funny, it seems utterly normal to me.  All those years of grad school have clearly put a kink in my brain.  But doesn’t it seem useful to you to distinguish cognate words from borrowed ones?  Your “derive from a common ancestor” mixes two completely different phenomena.  (Yes, of course one can say “cognate,” but that’s an uncommon enough word outside hist-ling circles I don’t feel comfortable assuming everyone will know it.)

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Posted: 20 March 2008 06:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I think “cognate” is far more widely known that this bizarrely restrictive sense of “related”: Muileann and mill both derive from Latin molina, and are not related.

[ Edited: 20 March 2008 06:07 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 21 March 2008 05:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Really?  OK, I’ll try to keep that in mind.  Not promising miracles, though; I can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday, and I had to read “Muileann and mill both derive from Latin molina, and are not related” twice to realize you were quoting it as a “bizarre” statement, because it seems so utterly unexceptionable to me.

Edit: To me, it’s like saying “Yes, Joe and I live in the same house, but we’re not related.”

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Posted: 21 March 2008 05:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Hi folks, and thanks for your feedback! I am thrilled that we have reached consesus on the value of Lagavulin as a whisky :)

Let me now address a few less important issues:

Oecolampadius - 20 March 2008 09:40 AM

A question you haven’t addressed is How would the name have gotten from Greece to Scotland except by the strands of Indo-European detritus they share (lag, loch, lake, lagoon, lakkos etc)

Good question. Islay was an early hub for the spread of Christianity in the region. Both Greek and Latin were the international languages of Christianity at the time, so words such as molina/myle or laguna/lakkos cound have reached the island via early missionaries. Again this interpretation is purely speculative, and subject to historic validation.

In a similar context, it beats me how on earth the Semitic Adonai (Lord) could have traveled to Greece and transfigured as Adonis, a minor deity in the Hellenic pantheon. Which brings me to my second point:

languagehat - 20 March 2008 12:43 PM

Where you do risk sounding like the father character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding is at your website.  I like the idea, but I would urge you to be much stricter about your etymologies.  You seem to be accepting anything that looks vaguely plausible as long as it’s Greek, even when the results are silly:

Ἀδριανός, Adrianos, Adrian: Firm. From a-, negative prefix, and dro, to act.

Not only is it not from Greek roots, it’s not even a Greek name; as Behind the Name says, it’s

From the Roman cognomen Hadrianus, which meant “from Hadria” in Latin. Hadria was a town in northern Italy (it gave its name to the Adriatic Sea).

You say:

Ἂδωνις, Adonis: He who sings, name of a god. From ado, to sing.

No, it’s a borrowing from Semitic Adonai ‘lord.’ You need to stop trying to make everything as Greek as possible and start taking etymology more seriously if you want your site to be as valuable as it could be.

Indeed, one explanation—found in many sources, including the venerable http://www.behindthename.com—is that Adonis is in fact related to his Semitic colleague Adonai. But this is just one explanation, among many. I have taken the ado, to sing connection from The Etymologicum Magnum:  “Αδωνις:  Παρά τό άδω τό ψάλλω: ή παρά τό ήδω τό ευφραίνομαι” (Adonis: From ado to chant or hedo to rejoice).

I do not see why this interpretation is, a priori, sillier that the Adonai cognate explanation.

Regarding Adrian, the source I use links the origin of the town Adria (hence, the Ardiatic) to the Greek word adrias, meaning sea (also mentioned in The Etymologicum Magnum), and in particular “calm sea” which brings us to the proposed etymology ( a-, negative prefix, and dro, to act). I have seen other explanations, linking adria with the Greek hydor (water) and the Illyrian ador (also water). It is not clear to me which explanation holds more water (pun intended!).

Finally, my site Etymologica.com is a labour of love. Although it dabbles exclusively in Greek names, I have tried to keep things as extroverted and international as possible— which is why the site is not in Greek. I am an economist, not a linguist, so I can certainly not claim papal infallibility - so any comments or corrections are more than welcome!

[ Edited: 21 March 2008 05:54 AM by Pavlos ]
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Posted: 21 March 2008 05:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Καλώς ορίσατε, Pavlos. Είμαι Ελληνικός Ορθόδοξος.

It’s funny.  I started thinking about the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding right after the first couple of sentences.  Made me chuckle. :-)

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Posted: 21 March 2008 06:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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languagehat - 21 March 2008 05:15 AM

Really?  OK, I’ll try to keep that in mind.  Not promising miracles, though; I can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday, and I had to read “Muileann and mill both derive from Latin molina, and are not related” twice to realize you were quoting it as a “bizarre” statement, because it seems so utterly unexceptionable to me.

Edit: To me, it’s like saying “Yes, Joe and I live in the same house, but we’re not related.”

I’m with Dr. T on this, so far as non-technical usage goes.  To use the “Joe and I” analogy, it is like saying “Yes, Joe and I have the same grandfather, but we’re not related.”

As a term of art in historical linguists this is an entirely different matter, of course.  But I think it will lead to trouble in a more general setting, even one populated by erudite and fiendishly handsome/beautiful persons as this.

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Posted: 21 March 2008 06:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I think “cognate” is far more widely known that this bizarrely restrictive sense of “related”: Muileann and mill both derive from Latin molina, and are not related.

I’m with Dr. T. on this one. I was also unaware of the restricted sense of related. I find that many disciplines adopt specific jargon senses of common English words which creates confusion and misunderstanding when communicating with wider audiences--often including fellow academics in related fields who are not up on the terms of art in that subfield.

Cognate is a good jargon word because the meaning is unambiguous and if a reader doesn’t know it, they will be aware that they don’t know it and can look it up. Related is a bad jargon word because the uninitiated reader who encounters it will have no clue that there is a special jargon sense they should be aware of.

You could say genetically related, but that comes with its own baggage of people confusing it biological genetics (as happened in the infamous Ebonics incident in Oakland, Calif.) Derived from is clear, widely understood, and unambiguous.

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Posted: 21 March 2008 10:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Derived from is clear, widely understood, and unambiguous.

Right, but it also doesn’t help in this case, because the point is not that muileann isn’t derived from mill, it’s that it’s not cognate to it.  It really surprises me that this use of “related” is so counterintuitive for most people, but that’s one thing I love about this board—I’m always learning things!

I have taken the ado, to sing connection from The Etymologicum Magnum

The Etymologicum Magnum is a medieval work of no more scientific value than Isidore’s Etymologiae.  I don’t mean to be dismissive, but I’m not sure I see the point of an etymological site that doesn’t even try to provide accurate etymologies.  How can you possibly entertain the idea of a Greek etymology for Hadrian when it’s a Latin name?  And as for Adonis/Adonai, you do realize the Greeks got their alphabet from the Phoenicians, right?  There was a tremendous amount of cultural interchange among all the peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean.  I appreciate the fact that you’re an economist, not a linguist, but that makes it all the more important to stick to etymologies produced by modern linguists, since you have no basis for evaluating them yourself.

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