Armenian Language Corner

Honey and the Bees

The words honey (English) and Honig (German) are cousins; together with other similar words in Swedish, Dutch, etcetera, they both descend from their grandfather, Proto-Germanic, which had the word *hunagam (the asterisk shows that the word does not come from a written source, but from linguistic study), whose origin is unknown.

However, this is not the term some Indo-European languages have used or still use to call the sweet product of the hardworking bees. For instance, Latin called it mel and Greek meli, while Armenian called it meghr (մեղր, in Classical Armenian melr). These and some other related words come from the common Proto-Indo-European root *melit.

Armenian and Greek share one interesting trait: they both have used the same root*melit to designate not only the product, but the producer. Who produces honey? In Armenian, “bee” is meghu (մեղու, in Classical Armenian melu); in Ionic Greek, “honeybee” is melissa (melitta in Attic Greek), from which derives the feminine nameMelissa in English (and other languages).
Coming to proper names, Armenian also has its own share of names related to honey, such as Meghrig (Մեղրիկ) and Meghri (Մեղրի). The latter actually comes from the homonymous city, located in the south of the Republic of Armenia (region of Siunik or Zangezur), but, of course, the name itself is derived from the same source.

To be fair, there are a couple of words that people with well-developed literary senses still use in English: mellifluent and mellifluous. They share the same common origin with meghr, since they both come from Late Latin, and ultimately their meaning “sweet” is derived from mel (“honey”).

To recap, there is an even more interesting example, which shows that the root *melitexisted at some point in Proto-Germanic before being superseded by *hunagam. It is also unexpected: who would think of mildew and relate it to honey? As a matter of fact, the association of Proto-Germanic *mili (honey) + *dawwō (dew) originated the Old English word meledēaw (“honeydew”)and this is how we have the terror of tiles, rugs, and paper: mildew. Frankly, who would associate mildew with honey?