Armenian Language Corner


“What’s the relation between a parish and a fire?”

“There is smoke involved in both.”

“How come?”

“Let’s see. How do you say ‘smoke’ in Armenian?”

Ծուխ (dzookh)”

“What about “parish”?”

“That is ծուխ (dzookh) too!”

“There you go.”

Words happen to have a literal and a figurative sense. In Classical Armenian, the word tzookh (dzookh, in Western Armenian pronunciation) literally meant “smoke,” but also acquired the figurative meaning “family, hearth, home,” since the smoke coming out of the chimney symbolizes the existence and the life of a family. There is a comparative example in the Farsi language: the word duda, meaning “chimney; family,” along with the pair dud (“smoke”) and dudman (“family, lineage”).

The English word “parish” is also related to the idea of house or dwelling. It comes from French paroisse, derived from paroecia, the Latin version of Greek paroikia (“sojourning”), which literally meant “beside the house” (para + oikos; the root oikos is also the one behind the English words “economy” and “ecology”).

The great linguist Hrachia Adjarian regarded tzookh as a loan from the Caucasian languages. He speculated that there had been a word *cux “smoke,” which has not survived, but from which descended words like cuxva in Georgian, meaning “sadness, sorrow,” with the figurative meaning of “smoke from the heart.” He pointed to the abovementioned word dud in Farsi, which does not mean just “smoke,” but also “sorrow.”

However, linguistics is a science, and science always relies on facts. The decipherment of the Hittite language, and Indo-European extinct language from Asia Minor (second millennium B.C.) brought a mountain of new material that was unknown in Adjarian’s time. One of his disciples, Gevorg Jahukian, another great expert in the history of Armenian language, has considered the word tzookh to have come from Hittite tuhhu-(ua)i (“smoke”). A phonetic change from t to tz would explain tzookh.

Having said all this, we have to move on to a synonym for “smoke” in Armenian, մուխ (mookh). The latter came from Proto-Indo-European *smukh, which derived from the root *smeukh. Does it ring a bell?

Indeed. The meaning of *smeukh would have been “smoke, to smoke.” There you have the source for the English word “smoke.”

Remember: linguistics is not… smoke and mirrors.