Armenian Language Corner

No Love Lost

In a previous entry (“Some Armenian Words That Sound (Almost) Like English… Or Not,” June 20, 2013), we spoke about some words, like English hair and Armenian her (հեր “hair”), which look very similar in their writing and synonymous in their meaning, but which actually have no direct relation.

Another interesting case is the couple formed by English hate and Armenian ad(el) (ատել “to hate,” from which adelootioon / ատելութիւն“hate, hatred”). It looks very enticing, especially when we recall that the letter տ sounded t in Classical Armenian (the same as in Eastern Armenian today).

Again, as the saying goes, one should not judge a book by its cover. Words most frequently change their appearance over time, even within the same language. They change even more when they pass from one language to another!

Thus, English hate comes from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic root *haton, from which cognates in various Germanic languages have derived. So far, everything is fine. But if you go further back, you will find that the initial h disappears when you find its ultimate origin:  another reconstructed root in the Proto-Indo-European language, *kad , which meant “sorrow, hatred” and originated similar words in several Indo-European historical languages, like Avestan (the language of the Iranian pre-Islamic sacred book), Greek, and Welsh.

Instead of a change in consonants, we find a change in vowels when we go to Armenian adel, whose present form in Classical Armenian was ateam (ատեամ “I hate”). It also has an Indo-European origin, but comes from another Proto-Indo-European root, *od, which meant “hate.”

In the end, then, both words have unrelated origins. But readers should be reminded that *od is actually the root of two English words: Old English atol (“dire, horrid”) and English odium (“hatred”). Granted, we do not use odium anymore, a word borrowed from Latin into English in the seventeenth century, but we still utilize odious (= Armenian adeli/ատելի), which had entered English from French a few centuries before.

As it should have been expected, there is no love lost between the odd couple hate and adel.