Armenian Language Corner

Of Masks and Mascara

Women know well the meaning of the English word mascara, which ultimately shares the same origin with mask. Admittedly, the immediate origin of mascara is Italian mascara, while mask comes from French masque. However, the French word has an Italian origin at its turn (maschera, mascara), which was borrowed from Latin masca (“witch, specter”). Somewhere in the middle, we must also count the influence of the Arabic word masxara “buffoon.”

This Arabic word has also been the source for maskhara (մասխարա), a word that some people use in colloquial Armenian, which means exactly “buffoon.” It has even originated an Arabic-Armenian hybrid: maskharayootioon /մասխարայութիւն (“buffoonery”).

Of course, these two words are not “proper” Armenian. The actual Armenian word for “buffoon” is dzaghradzoo (ծաղրածու). This is a compound word formed by dzaghr (ծաղր), the root of the verb “to mock” (dzaghrel / ծաղրել), and adzoo (ած), “the one who brings something.” Therefore, a dzaghradzoo is “the one who brings mockery.”

Here we close the circle: the word dzaghr ultimately comes from a Semitic language, probably Aramaic, where dzaghra meant “to mock.” This is the same with Arabic saxira “to mock,” which combined with the prefix ma, becomes the noun masxara.

In the end, as we see, Armenian and English share a similar, faraway origin for these words.

However, for those who are getting ready to use masks on Halloween, it is interesting to mention that the Armenian word timag (դիմակ “mask”) falls out of that circle. It was pronounced dimak (դիմակ), in Classical Armenian (derived from Iranian demak “effigy, form”) and originally meant “effigy, image, false face.” However, we only use it in Modern Armenian with the meaning of “mask.” Of course, if you go to a “masquerade ball,” that would mean that you are going to a timagahantes (դիմակահանդէս).