Etymological Meanderings

If any of us had brains we’d have skipped college altogether and started a college text book company instead. In what other business can you can you sell for $15.00, buy back for ¢.25, and then re-sell for $15.00. The logic behind the buyback price being that the books are used and may have wear, highlighting and/or writing in the margins.

I for one am adamantly against writing in books under any circumstance other than Mad Libs. Sometimes, though, buying a used textbook can be a boon to a student if the previous user was smart and highlighted all the important stuff and wrote helpful notes in the margins. That’s why when I started The Shadow Lines today, I was glad to see plenty of writing and highlighting. I was reading along when I encountered this:

I was like, okay, maybe there is some credence to this marginal note. Maybe this person has hit on something here. Maybe the previous owner was interested in word etymology and was a thoughtful, careful reader. If the word was Indian in origin that would certainly add a bit of depth to the novel, and show the Indian influence of the author; Amitav Ghosh.

My first instinct was that since this novel is in English and written by an English educated Indian, the word will probably have Latin roots. But given that Sanskrit is old and dead like Latin, and is part of the same Indo-European language family, and considering Sanskrit’s influence on modern languages like Urdu, Gujarati, Hindi, Bengali and others, it warranted further investigation.

My Latin dictionary and the OED confirmed lavatory’s Latin origins. Lavatory is from the Latin verb: lavo, lavare, lavi, lavatus-a-um.But as English words often have Latin cognates, Latin words often have Sanskrit cognates (in pronunciation) as can be seen here:

Latin:                                              Sanskrit:                                English:

pater                                               piter                                       father

frater                                               bhratar                                  brother

So I thought that the book’s previous owner might still be on to something. I searched a few online Sanskrit dictionaries and couldn’t find anything that resembled lavatory or lavo in either form or pronunciation. I was confident, though, that the previous owner knew something I didn’t. That is, I was confident until I came upon this note in the text:

Click to enlarge

Now I’m convinced the previous owner is an idiot.

However, if anyone has more experience with Sanskrit derived languages, any help in finding out whether lavatory has any relationship to other languages would be much appreciated.


3 thoughts on “Etymological Meanderings

  1. Hm, I don’t know, my grandmother has slapped me for not eating when I wasn’t hungry, so maybe these unnecessary slaps are an Indian tradition…
    (“How Can She Slap?” is an excellent example of this)
    But most likely this person didn’t know what they were talking about.

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