Word of the Day

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cotton, Pamuk, etc.

Many of you probably didn't know that the Turkish Nobel prize winning author Orhan Pamuk's last name means cotton in Turkish. Turkish cotton gave Hungarian a word, pamut, with the same meaning. Hungary was under the Ottoman rule for more than a hundred years.

Portuguese algodão and Spanish algodón, even though they may not look like it at first glance, come from the same source as English cotton,  from Arabic qutn, probably of Egyptian origin. Other languages also have this Arabic-based word, as Dutch kotoen, German Kattun (a kind of cotton), French coton, Italian cotone, among others.

The usual German word, though, is Baumwolle, literally tree-wool, which became bavlna in Czech/Slovak and bawełna in Polish. Vlna and wełna also mean wool (and also wave in Czech/Slovak) as in German, and the ba part comes from German Baum, "tree", and means nothing. This in one of many German calques in Slavic languages.

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