Loving the "L" words
Could the Persian "loos" (spoiled) and English "luxuriant" (lux) be far behind?
February 14, 2006
Last August, I wrote a piece “Lovely word” in which I discussed the origins of the English word “love.” Following the trail shown in Oxford English Dictionary, I wrote, “love” is an Indo-Iranian word, which derived more immediately from Old English lufu, luvu, or lubu, which in turn derived from luba of Old High German. The luba of Old High German derived from leubh, lubet, and libet of Sanskrit and Old Aryan, meaning “pleasing.”
The word leubh gave rise to lubido in Old Aryan, which meant libido, desire. “I would think,” I posited, “in Old Persian luvu or lubu would have existed as a word for love or desire.” In the Slavic language of southern Russia, which was influenced by the Median and Scythian (Saka) languages,” I pointed out, “the word for love is lubov.” For some time, however, I have been bothered by the notion that if the word luvu or lubu existed in Old Persian then where is the direct evidence of it. Certainly there is no specific word like it in present-day Farsi, nor do I know of one that is documented from pre-Islamic Persian.
By sheer happenstance, I think I have stumbled on a word in Farhang Moin that might well provide some measure of proof that luvu (lubu or lufu) existed in the vocabulary of ancient Persians. The word at issue is the Farsi word labeh, which now means self-admiration (khod-setaee); its verb form is labidan. Its verb form has the usual phonetic variations in which the sound “b” substitutes for the sounds “p” (as in lapidan) and “f” (as in lafidan). The variants of the noun labeh itself on the other hand are laveh,lafeh and lapeh. This may also relate to the Persian noun lavand, which presently means a “lewd” woman, a “prostitute.” I think lavand may have begun as a word to suggest one proffering luvu or lava, love (lav/a/vand).
I came about labeh while looking up the Farsi expression lat-o-lout (very poor, destitute, deprived). I was researching the expression because I was not sure if it was one word made up of two separate words, or just a sweeping rhetorical expression like chert-o-pert (nonsense), khert-o-pert (junk), farsh-o-marsh (carpet and like carpet), or harj-o-marj (chaos).
I often defer to Sabatico for finer points of Persian and English and in this case I asked if he could give me the “word” for this kind of dari-vari (idle talk) construction. He could not but knew what I was talking about. He e-mailed his friends with the query and soon I received the response that one Mark Southern at Middlebury College, in Vermont, has written a book entitled Contagious Couplings: Transmission of Expressives in Yiddish Echo Phrases (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005) and has ascribed the "shm" phenomenon in Yiddish to old-Iranian influences.
In colloquial Farsi, first we usually utter one word and then we insert the conjunctive “o” as the contraction of va (meaning “and”), followed by the echo word that sounds the same as the first word except that its first sound is converted into a different sound. Sometimes we do not use the “o” sound in between the two words, like in dari-vari.
Darivari (gossip, idle talk, tattle) is an interesting word. I believe its etymology derives from one of two – It is either an echo phrase consisting of the master word dari, which means “rural talk” in ancient Persia or it is from dareh-ee, which means “belonging to people living in valley or mountain settings.”
It is also possible to suggest that “dari” may have referred to the Dari language spoken by the high priests of ancient Persia and thus intelligible to the common folk, making darivari the equivalent of the American-English expression “It is all Chinese to me.” In any case, the word “vari” is then a nonsensical echo.
It is possible also to suggest that darivari derived from dar-o-var, meaning “inside and out,” or maybe from dar-o-divar (door and wall). This is not unlike chert-o-pert, which derived probably from charand-o-parand (charandeh-parandeh), of which I have written before.
But I digress. Back to lat-o-lout.
My last piece “Nonsequiturs” produced a number of e-mails, particularly with respect to the points that I had made about the Persian words louti and lout and the English word lout (pronounced in English as la-out). Omran from New York wrote to say that the adjective lati and noun alvati are cousins of louti and so I should not have left them out. I apologize for the omission, even though in these essays I merely seek to ignite the imagination of the reader – to leave her to relish for herself the amazing language that is our Farsi (in part Persian, if you prefer).
Omran who is a Lor (Lur, if you prefer) also related that in Lorestan the word lati is reserved for the gypsies, whose musical talents are often on display at local festivities. In Farsi the name for gypsy is usually “koli” and I believe it derived either from “kuli,” which might have indicated the carrying of their effects on the kul (back) or from “kuleh” which meant a sort of duffle bag, as in kuleh poshti, which means “backpack.”
Another reader Naser from Canada wrote to suggest a study about the connection between lout and the Biblical tribe of Lout and Lot and the word lavat (sodomy) and alvati (lewd behavior). I do not intend to undertake this study -- I simply mention the correspondence as a way to thank the reader for his thoughtfulness and interest in the subject.
The English word lout has its Persian equivalent in the word ladeh, which translates as “ignorant” “silly,” or “foolish.” The naturally occurring interchange between the sounds “d” and “t” explains the conversion in Persian of ladeh to lat. The word lat means “destitute.” The word lout means “naked.” What is then lat-o-lout? Technically, it is a combination of two adjectives meaning “destitute and naked,” referring to a person with nothing. But could it be an echo phrase in which lout is simply the echo the word lat? After all, the word nan (bread) is colloquially pronounced noon, so the “a” sound in lat could have become “ou.” This interpretation is not likely because the echo phrase for lat seems to be lat-o-pat.
Still browsing in the “L” words, I stumbled on the word lashi (“worthless”), not dissimilar in sound and meaning to lati. Then I looked up lash, which in Farsi and Arabic means “idle, nerveless, wanton, unchaste, lewd, undisciplined.” The word lashi in Arabic means worthless, but lasheh in Farsi means a “carcass, corpse,” all the same “nerveless.” The English lush (drink, liquor) is of obscure origin and there is little therefore to offer resistance to the temptation that it is probably related to the Persian and Arabic lash. The English word lush (and certainly in its earlier variations of lusch, lushe) means “lax, flaccid.” From this, one’s attention turns to the English word lusk, which means an idle, lazy fellow, a sluggard. Could the Persian loos (spoiled) and English luxuriant (lux) be far behind?
I close this foray into the “L” words with a thought about the English word luscious, which is said by the Oxford English Dictionary to be a form of delicious, meaning “highly pleasant, sweet to the taste or smell.” While luscious is of undetermined origin, delicious is aid to derive from the Old French dylycy. That and the modern French delice derived from the Latin delicium. I think the Latin “delicium” may well have come from the Persian del (heart) and suffix lys (lick), referring to something that soothed the soul, tasty – much like the Persian words del-gosha (pleasant) and del-chasb (desirable). The Persian word kaseh-lys (bowl-licker) is evidence of the possible existence of a term like del-lys.
Not an “L” word, I close nevertheless with a thought about a note from a friend in which he suggested that there might be a connection between avard-gah (battlefield) and the English word “war.” If avard-gah is found in Ferdosi then it is probably a poetic contraction of nabard (navard)-gah, as a reference to a place where one tests one's might. Words like nirou-gah (power plant) and zorkhaneh (place of strength) certainly designate a discrete spatial dimension to where strength resides or is brought to the test. The word "war” in English is from the Original Teutonic word werz. This might as well be the same as varz of the Persian and Sanskrit. Iranians can recognize this in a word like varzydan (show strength, exert, or effort; or work at something) or varzesh (sport).
Khoda (-God) qovvat!
Guive Mirfendereski is a professorial lecturer in international relations and law and is the principal artisan at 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 >>> Features in iranian.com