Armenian Language Corner

If Something Is Scarce, Then It is Expensive

The name of the toothed cutting tool that we today call saw has evolved over time. It was sawein Middle English and sagu in Old English. The name has a common origin with all Germanic languages, and the common root is Proto-Germanic *sago, a word that meant “a cutting tool” and came from an Indo-European root meaning “to cut.”

This looks very straightforward, and it is interesting to see how the same concept varies from language to language. The word saw in Armenian is sughots (սղոց), a composite term which comes from the root soogh (սուղ) and the suffix –ots (ոց). The origin of soogh, however, is unknown.

What does this root mean? It has nothing to do, in appearance, with cutting. Soogh means “scarce, brief, short.” (The word sughakrutiun (սղագրութիւն, “short-writing”), for instance, is the Armenian term for “shorthand.”) Thus, sughots literally means “that makes small.” When you use a saw, you cut something into pieces and make it smaller than the original.

Everything is good so far. But some readers are probably aware of the word soogh “expensive” and the noun sughootioon (սղութիւն “expensiveness”). This meaning only exists in Western Armenian, including several of its dialects; if Eastern Armenian speakers hear these words, they understand soogh as “scarce” and sughootioon as “scarcity.” For them, “expensive” is tang(թանկ) and “expensiveness” is tangootioon (թանկութիւն). However, it is intriguing that speakers of both branches share the composite adjective tangakeen (թանկագին, “valuable”).

But how come soogh means both “scarce” and expensive”? The explanation is very simple: the economic principle of demand and supply. Something abundant has a cheap value, but if that same item is scarce, then it becomes expensive. Thus, the origin of the meaning “expensive” for the word soogh.