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buber.net > Basque > Euskara > Larry > Note 17a: The Basque Word for Sky
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Note 17a: The Basque Word for Sky

by Larry Trask

Larry Trask, a world expert on Basque linguistics and the history of the Basque language, passed away on March 28, 2004. Larry contributed extensively to several online communities, including Basque-L and the Indoeuropean list. This collection of his postings is dedicated in his memory.

To learn about Larry, see this article.

The modern Basque word for 'sky' is <zeru>, which is, of course, borrowed from Romance. This loan word has completely displaced the native word, but we may still be able to recover that native word. Best guess is *<ortzi>, which is scarcely recorded as an independent word, but which appears as the first element in a large number of words pertaining to the sky.

Below I am attaching a copy of the current (rough and incomplete) draft of the entry for <ortzi> in the etymological dictionary I am planning to write, together with the derivatives of the word. I hope the result is more or less intelligible.

The initials for the several dialects I hope are obvious. Otherwise, 'OUO' is 'of unknown origin'; 'TS' in 'transferred sense(s)'; 'VFS' is 'verb-forming suffix'; 'CF' is 'combining form'. Any macaroni is either c-cedilla or n-tilde.


    ortzi n. (L?) sky, (LN) thunder, storm, (LN) storm cloud, thundercloud, (L LN) daylight, brightness of the sky, starlight, (old Z) atmosphere, hortzi (L LN) lightning, ortze (Z) storm, osti (B) thunderclap, (B?) storm, ozti (L G B?) thunderstorm, hortz, holtz (H.) cloud, sky, orz (old LN S) cloud. CF or(t)z-, ost-, oz-. A form urzi (12th cent.; see below); a variant orze ca. 1650 (provenance unknown); otherwise 1859.

    Original form probably *ortzi, OUO. B form by P**. A puzzling word, the object of much discussion. Apart from one medieval and one 17th-century attestation, the independent word is not recorded before the 19th century, yet its numerous derivatives, some of them recorded early, point to an ancient word. The first attestation is that of the 12th-century French pilgrim Aymeric Picaud, who, in a brief but otherwise accurate glossary, cites Urçia (apparently with the article -a attached) as the word for God. This has led many writers to conjure up a pagan Basque sky god with the name *Ortzi or *Urtzi, but there is no other evidence for a deity of this name ­ apart perhaps from the day-names; see below ­ and M. (****) suggests that Picaud, when requesting the Basque word for God, may have pointed to the sky, and that the Basques, mistaking his intention, may have given him their word for sky.

    The original sense is hard to determine, since, both as an independent word and in its numerous derivatives, the word exhibits all of the meanings sky, cloud, storm and thunder. The sense of sky is attested for the independent word only in a single proverb recorded in the 19th century.

    ortzadar (HN), hortzadar (L LN), orzadar (HN LN Z), orziadar (LN), ozadar (L Z), holtzadar (L), ostadar (Z), ortzeder (?) n. rainbow, TS (HN) frown, scowl. 1571. + adar horn. Last variant apparently contaminated by eder beautiful.

    ortzaizki, hortzazki, orzaizki (LN) n. brightness of the sky or of the stars, moonlight. Final element obscure.

    ortzantz (L LN), orzantz (Z LN), ozantz(a) (Z) n. thunder, storm. + azantz noise.

    ortzargi (L LN Z), ostargi (L G HN B), orzargi (R), ozargi (R Z), oztargi (G B HN) n. dawn, daylight, oztargi (B) n. sunbeam. + argi light.

    ostargitu (L) vi. clear up (of the sky). + -tu VFS.

    ortzegun (L LN HN), orzegun (L LN), ostegun (Z LN G HN) n. Thursday. 1617. + egun day. This word, which looks so much like a calque of Lat. Jovis dies Thursday (lit., day of Jupiter), possibly provides some support for the idea, discussed above, that the first element might once have been the name of a sky-god or a thunder-god. But a calque along the lines of thunder-day also appears plausible. However, M. (****) points out that a derivation from bortz ~ bost five + egun day would be formally perfect, by P**, and semantically acceptable if the days of the week are counted from Sunday. See also ortzirale, below, and see eguen (under egun).

    ortzegun/ostegun gizen (L LN HN G) n. Thursday before Mardi Gras. + gizen fat. Calque on Fr. jeudi gras, Cast. jueves gordo.

    ostegun aizaro (HN old B) n. Maundy Thursday. + aizaro Maundy Thursday.

    ostegunkari (L LN) n. person who works or travels on Thursday. + -kari professional NFS (see -ari [1]).

    ortzeko (L) adjvl. celestial, heavenly. + -ko RS.

    ortzikara (L) n. stormy weather. + -kara NFS.

    ortzirale (L LN), ortzilare (L LN R), orzirale (L), orzilare HN LN R), ostirale (LN Z), ostiral (G) n. Friday. 1622. Final element obscure. See also bariku.

    ortzirale (etc.) saindu n. Good Friday. + saindu holy.

    ostiralekari (LN) n. person who works or travels on Friday. + -kari professional NFS (see -ari [1]).

    ortziri (L LN Z) n. thunder. Final element obscure.

    ortzitsu (L) a. stormy. + -tsu AFS full of.

    ortzitu, hortzitu (L LN) vi. thunder, be stormy. + -tu VFS.

    ortzi zuria! (L) intj. bloody hell! + zuri white + -a article (see *har). I have never seen this phrase documented, but I have heard it myself. It appears to be literally white sky or perhaps white thunder.

    ortzondo (Z LN), orzondo (LN R) n. dawn, daybreak. + ondo [1] after.

    ortzoski, orzoski (old LN) n. calm air, clear air. 17th cent. Final element obscure.

    orzgarbi (L LN Z), ozkarbi (B G), oskarbi (B G) n. clear sky. + garbi clean.

    ozkarbi-une (B) n. brief periods of sun peeping through the clouds. + une interval.

    orzgorri (LN), horzgorri (LN), ozkorri (B) n. reddish cloud, red sky, ozkorri (Z) dawn, dusk, twilight. + gorri red.

    orzondo (LN R) n. dawn. + ondo [1] after.

    ostarku, oztarku, ostriku, oztriku (B) n. rainbow. + arku arc. Last two forms apparently an irregular alteration.

    ostarte, oztarte (B G) n. brief periods of sun peeping through the clouds. + arte interval.

    ostrallaka (HN G), ostralika (G), ostreilaka (G), oztralika (HN G), oztrellaka (G) n. rainbow. Final element obscure.

    ostil, oztil (G) n. rainbow. Final element obscure; *iLe moon is phonologically good but semantically curious.

    ostots (Z HN), oztots (HN G) n. thunder. + hots noise.

    oztosari (HN) a. thundering. + -ari ?

    oztosketa (HN ) n. rumbling of thunder. + -keta NFS.

    ostroi, oztroi (B) n. thunder. Obscure.

    ozkar (B), ozkarri (G) n. thunder. Obscure.

    ozme (LN) n. lightning bolt, thunderbolt. + mehe slender, by W**

    ozpin (L LN), orzpin (L LN), ozmin (G? HN?), ozpirin, ozpriń (L) lightning bolt, thunderbolt, thunder. 17th cent. + *bini tongue (see mihi). Last two variants puzzling; possibly *-bini > *-bii > *-biri > -birin.

    ozpinarri (HN G), ozminarri (HN) n. thunder. Final element obscure; harri stone is phonologically good but semantically puzzling.

    oztrontz (B) n. beam of light. Obscure.


Incidentally, we have also lost our native word for 'sky' in English: 'sky' is not a native English word, but one borrowed from Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. But our native word remains in the language: it is 'heaven'. This word has been almost entirely specialized as a name for the Christian paradise, though we still use it occasionally as a very fancy word for 'sky'.

Larry Trask COGS University of Sussex Brighton BN1 9QH UK


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