Armenian Language Corner

Egg Hunting

Everybody knows that it is a guy in the United States and a chap in England, or an elevator here and a lift across the pond. So, it should not come as a surprise that we have the same situation in Western and Eastern Armenian. Of course, it goes without them that the differences between the two of them are greater than in the case of the English language. However, we will focus on a pair of different names for “egg” in Armenia and elsewhere.

Authors of the fifth century A.D. already recorded the word “egg” as ձու (Classical/Eastern Armenian dzoo, Western Armenian tzoo). This use of the word entered many Eastern Armenian dialects, both in the Caucasus and Iran, and has continued in literary Eastern Armenian to this day. The word tzoo has generated various compound words, such as ձուածեղ (tzuvadzegh “omelette”), ձուաձեւ (tzuvatzev “oval”), ձուարան (tzuvaran “ovaries”). These words are equally used today in Western and Eastern Armenian; the word tzuvadzegh, for instance, was used in dialects from Yerevan to Constantinople and beyond, only with differences in pronunciation.

It is not the same case for the word tzoo itself. Western Armenian dialects opted for a compound word, հաւկիթ (havgeet); հաւ (hav) was the generic name for birds in Classical Armenian, but took the meaning “hen” in Modern Armenian, and կիթ (geet) means “animal product” (1). Therefore, havgeet became the product from a hen, namely, an egg, and later was extended to eggs of any kind. Thus, while the compound words with tzoo have remained in use in literary Western Armenian, the root itself was displaced by the dialectal form havgeet.

Where does tzoo come from? Most Indo-European languages have a common word for “egg.” The original word was *o(u)i-om (pronounce o(v)iom) in Proto-Indo-European, which derived into different variants: *oyom/ovom in Western languages and *aya in Eastern ones. The word “egg” comes from *oyom, the same as the words that represent the concept, but borrowed from Latin ovum (such as “oval” or “ovaries”). Now, in the case of the Armenian language, it is hard to account for the origin of tz. Some linguists have come to the conclusion that the original word *oiom evolved to *ioiom, and the initial *i turned into tz (they give the analogy of the word tzavar “bulgur wheat,” which comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *ieuo “cereal”). Thus, in the end, “egg” and tzoo would become distant cousins.     


(1) The verb կթել (gutel) means “to produce from an animal.” Thus, while կով կթել (gov gutel) means “to milk a cow,” this does not imply that gutel has any relation with կաթ (gat “milk”). We translate it as “to milk” because the product is milk.