Armenian Language Corner

Virgins Do Not Take Sides

The calendar of Holy Week in the Armenian Apostolic Church includes a special service that enacts the parable of the Foolish and Wise Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). The translation of “virgin” in Armenian is gooys (կոյս); this word is also used, indeed, as the name of the sign of Virgo (Gooys / Կոյս) and as an adjective (e.g. “virgin forest” = gooys andarr / կոյս անտառ). Its origin is still unknown.

The service is celebrated “in the memory of the Ten Virgins” (Dasuh Goosanats hishadageen / Տասը Կուսանաց յիշատակին). The word goosanats is a Classical Armenian declination of the plural of gooys (= goosank / կուսանք), while its Modern Armenian equivalent would be gooyseroo/ կոյսերու. Now, the existence of goosank / goosanats indicates that the root gooys becomes goos(կուս) in Modern Armenian, except in plural (gooys > gooyser). A grammar rule establishes that the diphthong ooy (ոյ) becomes oo (ու) when words are derived or compounded. We have, for instance, the words goosagan(կուսական) “virginal” and goosagron (կուսակրօն) “celibate.”Some curious mind would like to ask: “What about goosagtsootyoon / կուսակցութիւն”? Is there any connection with gooys?”

Yes, there is. But before you start smiling, we should add that the relation is with another gooys. Virgins and parties (goosagtsootyoon) have nothing to do with each other.

As a matter of fact, the other word gooys (կոյս), meaning “side,” comes from an Iranian source and is not used today in Modern Armenian. However, it is the root for several words of current use, such as goosagtsootyoon, which is a compound word that means “group [of people] associated [with one] side” (gooys-a-g[i]ts-ootyoon), namely, “party,” whether political or not.

Another interesting compound word is megoosi (մեկուսի) “isolated.” It is composed of the words mi(մի “one”) and gooys. They are linked by the connective a (mi-a-gooys-i megoosi). It is a grammatical rule of Armenian that the combination of i and a (ի + ա) in compound words turns intoe (ե, not է).

Since we mentioned the termination goosi, let us finish with a third word: karragoosi (քառակուսի). At this point, the reader will probably surmise that it is the combination of karr and gooys. However, karr (քառ) has nothing to do either with carr (գառ “lamb”) or kar (քար “stone”). Likegooyskarr is another word from Classical Armenian that has only remained as a root in the modern language. It means “four,” but you do not say megyergooyerekkarr (մէկ, երկու, երեք, քառ), but megyergooyerekchors (մէկ, երկու, երեք, չորս). As you may have guessed,karragoosi literally means “four-sided,” namely, “square,” as in a square room (karragoosi senyag / քառակուսի սենեակ).