Armenian Language Corner

What Do You Prefer to Pick Up?

How many people out there are not afraid of picking and reading weighty tomes? (Users of Kindle and Nook, so-called “tree huggers,” and the like are excused). But probably any of them will gladly pick up a couple of տոմս or տոմսակ (Western Armenian doms or domsag, Classical/Eastern Armenian toms or tomsak). Otherwise, they would not be able to set foot in a theater or board a plane without a “ticket.”

(The same as French billet “ticket,” both Armenian words have also another meaning: when you scribble a short message to someone, you say that you have written a doms or a domsag.)

Interesting, tome and doms/domsag “ticket” come from the same place, even though they are so different in size and weight. How come?

We know that a tome is a book, especially a heavy one. The word comes from French tome (equivalent to English volume, as in “two-volume book”), but its ultimate origin, via Latin, is Greek τόμος (tomos “section, roll of papyrus, volume”).  The diminutive of this word is τομαρίων (tomarion “small volume”). In the fifth century A.D., Armenian had borrowed both words from Greek

  1. The abovementioned տոմս (toms), with the meaning of “section,” which later evolved into a piece of paper to mean a “ticket” or a billet, and the addition of the diminutive suffix ակ (ag/ak);
  2. The word տոմար (tomar, Western Armenian domar), with the meaning of “section, volume,” but also “calendar.” That’s why today we use domar both in the sense of “registry book” (a bookkeeper is called a տոմարակալ /domaragal ) and “calendar” (Հայ Եկեղեցւոյ տոմար /Hay Yegeghetsvo domar “calendar of the Armenian Church”).

You will be surprised to learn that tome, doms, and domar are also related to another little English word: atom.  Atoms were thought to be indivisible, hence the name (a-tom “non-divisible”), even though they found out that they were actually divisible at the turn of the twentieth century! Incidentally, Armenian, unlike English and other Western languages, has a word of its own to say “atom,” which, by the way, is also… of Greek origin: հիւլէ (hiwle).