The essay “Lovely word” on the Persian origin of the word love keeps on giving. A few more comments on the substance of that essay compel a few lines more. A Lor friend named “Balamshalam” wrote not one but two notes – in one, he wanted me to know that the term lavah – lavah in Lori denotes the kind of songs (lullabies) that mothers sing to their children.
In another missive, Balamshalam wanted me to know that, like love, the English word “gorgeous” too is of Persian origin. According to him, in Lori, the word “gorjeh” applies equally to a man or woman who is handsome and agile. The term apparently originated with the arrival of Gorji immigrants from Gorjestan (presently the Republic of Georgia) to Lorestan, whose women were famed for their beauty.
“The dictionary of origin of words says it is a French word,” he further wrote. I note: Gorjestan had been a part of Iran more or less until the demise of Iran’s holdings during Fathali Shah Qajar. Insofar as I know for sure, the Gorji were brought in large numbers by Shah Abbas and settled in various part of Iran, including in the northern provinces of Mazandaran, Gilan and Gorgan. According to the various accounts of the Qajar court, many Gorgi women figured among the favorites of the kings and prices.
There is no ethnic group per se called Gorgi. We in Farsi call the people from Gorjestan as Gorji. My guess is that the place got its name (Gorjestan) in both Turkish and Persian possibly from Gorgestan, “place of wolves,” just as the province of Gorgan (Jorjan, in Arabic) got its name. The Russians too call the people of Gorjestan grouzi, without any rhyme (or reason) other than to reflect the Persian and Turkic practice.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “gorgeous” in English is of an uncertain origin; it is surmised that it may have come gorgias of Old French, which meant jewelry-loving, elegant, it self apparently from gorge, meaning “throat.” Naturally, one may construct a paradigm by which the word gorgeous, meaning “dazzlingly beautiful or magnificent” could be explained in terms of the magnificence of the bejeweled necks of Gorji princesses. The problem is that the French gorge derives from the Latin gurges and therefore places into doubt the Gorji origin of gorge or gorgeous.
If I were to look for an etymological origin of the name Gorjestan, I would begin with the apparent legacy of beauty. Take, for example, the notion that the people from this region, with their pale skin coloration and beautiful features, were truly Gol-chehreh, literally meaning “face like a flower” in Persian. To go from Gol-chehr to Gorjestan is not that difficult: l turned to r (as in the familiar and common phonetic ibdal in sols=sors, meaning “trimester” of an Iranian academic year). So we ended up with Gor-chehr that became Gorjehr (a permissible ibdal/substitution in Persian/Arabic/Turkish) and eventually the word lost the h in Gorjestan, but kept the sound in the Lori word of Gorjeh.
While the word gorjeh in Lori is related to Gorji and Gorjestan, the English gorgeous may be related to another source altogether – let’s say, a dazzling woman in a low-cut dress exposing much neck.
In Farsi we have a proverb that says “all that is round is not necessarily a walnut” – har che gherd ast gherdou nist – English: All that glitters is not gold. The same lesson informs my response to an inquiry by Farhad regarding the connection of the word mahi in Farsi and Hawaiian languages. The Hawaiian word mahi means “strong” and mahi mahi (literally, strong-strong) refers to dolphinfish (not a dolphin per se).
The Farsi mahi, meaning “fish,” has an Indo-Iranian origins. According to Dehkhoda, it was masya in Avesta, mahik in Pahlavi/Middle Persian, mastya in Sanskrit, mohi in Gilaki, and masi in Lori and Kurdish. I do not know exactly how and when the Hawaiian mahi came about, but would it not be a hoot if mahi mahi originally meant “strong fish,” a concoction promoted by the English explorers who combined the Hindi/Sanskrit mahi (as in mahseer, the largest of river fish in India) with the Hawaiian word mahi (strong)!
Amir from New York and Saeed from California wrote to express their agreement with the view that there is nothing wrong with calling our language Farsi when we speak/write in English. But Reza expressed his surprise at my preference. “How would you like if a Persian speaker from a foreign land told you: Zebane men Deutsch (ya English) est!” Honestly, I have no idea what this English-writing Farsi-speaker had in mind. I think he meant to say that a German will say to his English audience that he is German and speaks German, not that he is German and he speaks Deutsche. So? I say, to each his own.
Another e-mail reiterated a few earlier conjectures that the Farsi lab, meaning “lip” should be cited as belonging to the luv and libido family of words. Damn right – according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English lip is derived from lap in Pahlavi (Middle Persian/Sasanian), and is therefore the (younger) kissing cousin of the present-day lab in Farsi.
I went into the Labor Day weekend with a nagging question in mind: Could there be a connection between the Persian lab (lip) and English/Latin labiapudendi meaning “the lips of the female pudendum, the folds on either side of the vulva.” If so, then the most significant etymological discovery of our time would be at hand – love equals vagina! By the time I came out of Labor Day weekend, I had my answer, but not without the inspiring contribution of Lake Habeeb to my thinking process.
Lake Habeeb is located in the Rocky Gap State Park, off Exit 50 on Interstate 68 near Cumberland, Maryland. It is a man-made lake and named after the Lebanese civil engineer who inspired and designed the area in order to bolster Cumberland’s sagging economy in the 1960’s. Naturally, the name Habeeb should be familiar to Farsi-speakers: Habeeb (Habib) is from habb, meaning “love” and “kindness” in Farsi//Turkish and Arabic. In the Islamic world, Habib is “lover” and mahbub is the “loved” one, and Mahbubeh is a girl’s name.
Once on Lake Habeeb, I let my filthy imagination run wild with lab and labia. It is obvious to most that a woman’s horizontal lips in the penthouse resembles the vertically oriented lips located at the foyer. What is not so obvious to most, cosmetically, is that the pigmentation of the lower area is reflected usually upstairs in the color of the rouge applied to the oral lips.
Wait, there is more! The generation preceding mine used to tell the maiden to refrain from kissing boys on the lips, because kissing was the gateway to seduction. There is then a certain erotic message contained in a man’s vulgar demand for a kiss in “lab bedeh,” meaning “give me a lip-kiss.”
On Lake Habeeb, I asked what if the giving of lip-kiss “lab dadan” and receiving of it “lab ghereftan” served the religiosity of some distant time by covering the true desire of the participants — to engage in carnal relations. This is where things get sticky.
In Farsi, the verb form for allowing intercourse on the part of a woman is called kos dadan, in which kos means “vagina,” and for a man the quest is kos kardan, which means “to do vagina.” The connection between lab and kos therefore is proximate. If lab is related etymologically to “love” by the way of Persian lab/lav, then it should be accepted that in ancient Iran, the Persian proto-word lav or lab had the same meaning as the contemporary kos, which is apparently of Arabic origin.
On Lake Habeeb, I also could not escape the notion that the Farsi verb kardan (to do) derived from the Old Persian kar, which still means “work, labor.” As anyone who has sweated it in the salt mines knows full well, love or loving is a lot of work. No wonder in Turkish (Afghani, too?) the place where love is sold for pecuniary gain is called karkhaneh (house of labor). Go figure!
Guive Mirfendereski is VP and GC at Virtual Telemetry Corporation since 2004 and is the artisan doing business as Guy vanDeresk (trapworks.com). Born in Tehran in 1952, he is a graduate of Georgetown University's College of Arts and Sciences (BA), Tufts University's Fletcher School (PhD, MALD, MA) and Boston College Law School (JD). He is the author of A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea (2001) >>> Features in iranian.com