Armenian Language Corner

Why “Organ” and “Crocodile” Are Slightly Different?

Languages constantly borrow words from each other. Sometimes, the words remain the same as in the original, or slightly changed, and sometimes there are other factors that make them change. We have a couple of words in English that have remained essentially the same:

– English organ, “musical instrument,” borrowed via French and Latin from Greek organon, “organ, instrument, tool”

– English crocodile, borrowed via Latin from Greek krokodilos.

However, the same Greek sources gave a different result when Armenian borrowed from them.

The word organon, with the meaning of “organ,” should have been transliterated as որգանոն (organon) in Classical Armenian; as we all know, the letter օ did not exist in the Armenian alphabet in the fifth century A.D.

Instead, it became ergion (երգիոն) or ergehon (երգեհոն), which today we pronounce yerkion or yerkehon in Western Armenian. How the root changed? The reason has to be found in the influence of the well-known word erg (երգ) that meant “song” and “poem” in Classical Armenian, but also “musical instrument.” (Today yerk only means “song”).

Something similar seems to have happened with the Armenian for “crocodile.” The Greek krokodilos became kokordilos (կոկորդիլոս), which today we pronounce gogortilos in Western Armenian. Crocodiles have big mouths and the word kokord/gogort (կոկորդ) means “throat, gorge.” Perhaps whoever used the Greek word for the first time wanted to make sense for the Armenian speaker that the crocodile, actually, had a big throat.