24 thoughts on “Episode 14: The Greek Word Horde

  1. Dear Kevin-
    I have been enjoying your podcasts. One comment: Whether Ancient Macedonian was distinct language or, more likely, a Greek dialect, is unknown. If it was a distinct language, it was probably a sibling language of Greek.

  2. I had a question pertaining to the part of the podcast in which you say that the Ancient Macedonians were heavily influenced by Greek culture, but did not speak Greek. I was going to ask which language was spoken there. Also, I am heavily addicted to the podcast and have been “binge listening” for a week now. Thank you!

    • Hi Charlie,

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast. With respect to the language of the ancient Macedonians, it is generally believed that it was an Indo-European language related to Greek, but distinct enough to be considered a different language. Some linguists argue that it was simply a different dialect of Greek, but that gets into the difficult and complicated distinction between a language and a dialect.

      • Hey Kevin,

        Thanks for your response. Again, I can’t stop listening. The words I hear and speak on a daily basis have so much depth to them now. I can barely get through a 5-minute conversation without wanting to tell the other person about the root of a word they just used, or look one up in my Etymology app. I am an American by birth, studied Spanish my whole life and lived in Barcelona for 3 years. There I dabbled a bit in Catalan. I’ve been living in Scotland with my wife for 2 years now. I am a primary school teacher and struggle at times to understand my Glaswegian students. My school is one of the few bilingual schools in Scotland (half English – half Gaelic).

        I mention all of this to illustrate just how meaningful your podcast is to me. It is bringing a sense of unity to the languages and cultures that are important to me. Not to mention – my knowledge of Ancient European history and geography of Europe is expanding out of control. I am grateful for your work. Take care.


  3. Regarding the words CHURCH and PARA-

    Norwegian has church as “kirke” – now I know why!

    PARA meaning against, beside or almost – doesn’t gel with PARACHUTE – and I am guessing paraglide, parasail etc are not derived from the Greek, but from the word parachute. Still – parachute has me wondering where it came from. I hope you can explain.

    • The prefix ‘para-‘ is words like “parachute” and “paramilitary” comes from the Latin word “parare” meaning ‘to make ready.’ The Latin word passed into Italian where it meant to ‘ward off’ or ‘protect against.’ From Italian, it passed into English as a word forming element. ‘Para’ + ‘chute’ literally meant ‘to protect against a fall.’

  4. Hi, I have recently come across this wonderful podcast and have been listening to it ceaselessly ever since! I think I have covered 32 chapters in a month and to continue at this pace till I catch up… one comment though regarding this chapter. I believe there was a misunderstanding relating to the Hebrew bible. It was never lost to history and have been used by Jews continuously since around 2500 years ago. I myself am not a practicing Jew but it is a fact that the original Hebrew text is read in synagogues (a Greek word I believe…) every Monday, Thursday and Saturday. The Dead Sea scrolls indeed confirmed that the traditional version in use by Jews ever since, is identical to the one that used by the people of 2000 years ago.

    • I don’t really have anything to add; I’ve been listening my way through as well, and greatly enjoying it, and couldn’t resist adding a comment when I saw I am listening to this episode almost precisely one year to the day after you, ha ha!

  5. While the Homeric epics are clearly concerned with the problem of political authority and ruling elites, as seen between Agamemnon and Achilles, their composition predates the introduction of the word tyrannos into the Greek language. The word ‘tyrant’ is derived from tyrannos, which in turn has a pre-Greek origin, likely of Phrygian or Lydian origin, probably derived from Lydian tûran, “lord”, and simply means “sole ruler”.

    The oldest known use of the word tyrannos is associated with king Gyges of Lydia. Gyges, whom Plato uses as a disparaging example of moral depravity and wickedness (Republic 359a-360d), was the first to be known to the Greeks as a tyrant and the one who introduced the institution of tyranny to the Greeks. The Greeks understood the word tyrannos as having the meaning of military leader, specifically of leader of hoplite troops. It was Gyges who made the first use of hoplites; the hoplite bodyguard was one of the particular features of Lydian kingship. That Gyges owed his power to mercenaries is certain: Herodotos relates that the Lydians resented the murder of their king and took up arms against Gyges, but Gyges was able to force the revolting Lydians into submission with his “partisans” or mercenary hoplites (Herodotus, Histories, 1.13). The Greek terminology applying to rulers reveals that archagetes (‘the first leader’, ‘founder’, but also a word that stresses the concept of leadership especially in war, a title used of the kings of Sparta) is the word nearest in meaning to tyrannos. Archagetes has the meaning of “furtherer” and is applied both to divinities and to military leaders. In its second use it can be compared with words such as strategetes (military general, army leader) or strategos (military commander, the official title of Sicilian tyrants). The idea behind the word tyrannos is that of leading some militarily organized formation of people. In other words, the tyrant was a person who had managed to become commander of a body of mercenary troops owing allegiance to him personally and which he could use as a military/police force to control the state politically, using the state itself to collect the money with which to buy his soldiers. For example, Peisistratus, tyrant of Athens, was supported by a very considerable part of the growing population of Athens. Though forced from power, he returned to Athens again by gaining the support of foreign assistance, maintaining power with a mercenary bodyguard.

  6. Wonderful podcast. I enjoy you work immensely.
    I respectfully disagree with the explanation for ‘barbarians’ around 06:50.
    As far as i know, the word barber stands for a beard (as in a barber shop, or Barbarossa – red beard). So a barbarian would be one who does not shave, and thus presumably has lower standards of cleanliness.

    • I’m curious if you have a source for that proposed etymology? Most sources make the connection between “barbarian” and speech. Here is the etymology for “barbarous” contained in the Oxford English Dictionary:

      “Etymology: < Latin barbarus, < Greek βάρβαρος + -ous suffix: preceded in use by the simple barbar n., without suffix. The Greek word had probably a primary reference to speech, and is compared with Latin 'balbus' (stammering). The sense-development in ancient times was (with the Greeks) ‘foreign, non-Hellenic,’ later ‘outlandish, rude, brutal’; (with the Romans) ‘not Latin nor Greek,’ then ‘pertaining to those outside the Roman empire’; hence ‘uncivilized, uncultured,’ and later ‘non-Christian,’ whence ‘Saracen, heathen’; and generally ‘savage, rude, savagely cruel, inhuman.’ The later uses occur first in English, the Latin and Greek senses appearing only in translators or historians."

      • Here is a link (Barba, not Barbar):

        It says, inter alia:
        From earlier *farba, with initial b- assimilated to -rb, from Proto-Italic *farβā, from Proto-Indo-European *bʰardʰeh₂ (“beard”). Compare also barbātus.

        Oddly, in my own native language (Hebrew) we have a slang, odd four letter verb “Brbr” that means “to babble”. So maybe both explanations are viable (-:

        • I agree that the linked root is the source of the word “barber,” but I’m not sure how you’re making the connection to “barbarian.” By the way, here is the wiktionary link to “barbarian” which doesn’t seem to use your suggested root: https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/barbarian. The connection to “barber” is brand new to me. I’ve never seen that proposed etymology before.

          • Many dictionaries just note that one can compare Greek barbaros and Sanskrit barbara, without specifying the relationship between the two words (Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek; Kluge, Deutsche Etymologisches Wörterbuch; Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque; Frisk, Griechisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch). Pokorny did, however, claim that barbaros and barbara are related and derived from the PIE-root *baba-, *bal-bal-:
            Root / lemma: baba-, (*bal-bal-)
            English meaning: barbaric speech
            Note: also bal-bal-, bar-bar- with multiple dissimilations, onomatopoeic words

            Onomatopoeic : the formation of a word, as cuckoo, meow, honk, or boom, by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent.
            a word so formed.
            the use of imitative and naturally suggestive words for rhetorical, dramatic, or poetic effect.

            Mit -r-: Old Indian barbaraḫḥ `stammering’, Pl. name of non-Aryan people (provided that here r on idg. r and Old Indian l in balbalā goes back to idg. l), gr. βάρβαρος `not Greek, speaking an unintelligible / incomprehensible language’ (from which lat. barbarus) `βαρβαρόφωνος `from incomprehensible language’ (barely after Weidner Gl. 4, 303 f. from babylon. barbaru `stranger, foreign, alien’), serb. brboljiti, brbljati `babble’ (see also under bher- `to drone, buzz, hum’), lat. baburrus `foolish, silly’, gr. βαβύρτας ὁ παράμωρος Hes. (about lat. burrae `trifles, nonsense’ s. WH. I 124).
            Source: https://academiaprisca.org/indoeuropean.html

            If this is correct then not only is Greek barbaros and Sanskrit barbara related, but the two words also have Modern English babble and possible German Blabla as cognates (used since the 14th c according to Kluge, who also claims that Blabla is related to Old Norse blabr “nonsense”).
            Mayrhofer (Etymologisches Wörterubuch des Altiondoarischen) on the other side claims that barbaros and barbara are unrelated. Others again think that Sanskrit barbara is a Greek loan-word (Benfey, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary) or vice versa (Edelmann, Unknowing Barbara, p. 91).

            Is the Sanskrit barbara a Greek loan-word? Some say that the Greek word βάρβαρος found its way into late Classical Sanskrit and that it won’t be found in Vedic Sanskrit.

            One of the earliest references to barbara (meaning speaker of non-Aryan language) in Sanskrit literature is from the Mahābhārata, which is one of the epics of Indian literary tradition. Most conservative estimates put it at 5th to 4th c. BCE for the oldest books, and 4th c. CE for the latest ones.

            Even in the oldest books, there’s mention of barbara, such as for example in the Sabhā Parva, which is the second book. This book outlines the basis of the epic describing the court of the Kurus where the game of dice occurs between the cousins Pāņdavas and Kauravas, that eventually sets in motion one of the most epic wars of global mythology. In this book, there’s mention of the barbara (see Full text of “[ Vyasa] Mahabharata Book Two The Great Hall ( Clay( Book Fi.org)”). Even if we accept that this book dates to 5th c. BCE, one could argue that the word itself was a later insertion into the older text.

            While that’s definitely possible, there’s also other ancient texts from the same era which reference barbaras as non-Aryan foreigners, and as those living north of the Indian subcontinent. It seems unlikely that multiple ancient texts would have been updated to include a Greek borrowing in the early CE. It just fails Occam’s Razor. Even if we somehow concede this was just a borrowing, there’s other evidence that points to the contrary.
            If barbara was a borrowing in Sanskrit, it would only be used as a noun in a specific sense, i.e. to refer to “barbarians”. In Ancient Greek, the root word means “to stammer”, so the reason why non-Greeks were called barbaros was because they spoke “stammering speech”, referring either to the fact that they spoke Greek haltingly (because it wasn’t their native language) or that Greeks could only understand bits and pieces of what they said in their native language (due to limited understanding of foreign languages thousands of years ago).

            The same root meaning “stammer” exists in modern Indo-Aryan languages as well. In Hindi, for example, the expression “क्या बड़बड़ा रहे हो?” (kyā baŕbaŕā rahē hō) means “what nonsense are you saying?”. Here, the conjugated verb बड़बड़ा (baŕbaŕā) has the exact same sense as “to blabber”. If the Sanskrit barbara was directly borrowed from Ancient Greek in its nominal form to mean “barbarian”, the original sense of “to stammer” which exists in other IE languages as “blabber” etc. couldn’t have existed in modern Indo-Aryan.

            I’m not sure though whether Greek borrowed it from Sanskrit, as there were plenty of Indian śramana philosophers who influenced Indo-Greek rulers (the most famous being Nagasena who converted Menander to Buddhism, also known as Milinda in Pali tradition).

    • Barba is Latin for “beard.” Barbarian is a Greek root. These are what the French would call “faux amis” — false friends— in that they look/sound similar, but are not related. Same for the Latin adjective “bellus” (pretty, as in “belle”) and the Latin noun “bellum” — war, which was originally spelled “duellum” as in “duel.”
      —source: I am a professor of Latin & Greek with a PhD in Classics

  7. I recently discovered your excellent podcast. I am working my way through and have already learned a tremendous amount about the Indo-European antecedents of English. One dramatic error in Episode 14 brought me up short, however. You say that the original Hebrew version of the Hebrew Bible was thought lost to history until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But the Hebrew Bible has been retained by the Jewish people through the centuries, and portions of it are read in synagogues around the world every week. Christian scholars have been aware of this and often learn Hebrew as part of their studies so that they read the Hebrew Bible in its original text. If the Dead Sea Scrolls show anything it is how faithfully the original text has been preserved over two millennia. Worth a correction, I should think…

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