Quote for the day!


(According to legend, the very first couplet in
മഞ്ജരി inspired by which കൃഷ്ണഗാഥ was written.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The origin of God

In an earlier post, we looked at some of words meaning God. Let's dig in a bit deeper.

Most of the current words seem to be derived from Sanskrit.

For example, ദൈവം, ഈശ്വരന്‍ , ഭഗവാന്‍ etc. comes from the Sankrit roots.

There is an "older" word for God - ആണ്ടവന്‍ This word does not appear in Gundert's, but a related word does. അണ്ടര്‍ - meaning god. Gundert gives two origins:
  • അണ്ഡം (universe) -> അണ്ടം -> അണ്ടര്‍
  • അണ്ണ (above) -> അണ്ട -> അണ്ടര്‍
Given that this is such an old word, I subscribe more to the second etymology. (അണ്ണ is the same root from which we have അണ്ണന്‍ - elder brother)

I also noticed an interesting connection with another word അണ്ട (young bamboo shoot). Gundert says it comes from ആണ്‍ + തൈ = അണ്ടൈ -> അണ്ട by means of some neat ആദേശസന്ധി. I think this will be a deep, male-centric, etymology for the god-word as well: God is the "Male Shoot" or the male form - the പുരുഷന്‍ - of the godhead.

But somehow this interpretation seems very forced. If there is a word for the the male form, there should be a word for the female form as well - and I don't know of any. Also, the etymology given by Gundert indicates a non-sexist God - especially with the -അര്‍ suffix, as opposed to the -അന്‍ suffix.

Interestingly, one of the tamil words for God is ഇറൈ which also means "above".

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hybrid words

I vaguely recall hearing an (unwritten) rule in mallu says that one should not combine Sanskrit and Tamil roots in the same words. So one would say കല്പലക as opposed to കല്ഫലകം; പൂമെത്ത as opposed to പുഷ്പമെത്ത; ജന്മദിനം as opposed to പിറവിദിനം.

But we do have common words that seem to violate this rule:
കണ്മണി, കണ്മഷി, കാര്‍മേഘം Each of these words is formed from a Tamil and Sanskrit root; and I cannot think of a common alternative that is either pure Tamil or pure Sanskrit.

Which makes me think that the "rule" that I am recalling may not be correct. Or, maybe there are well-defined exceptions to the rule.

What do you think?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bad words!

All right! It's time for some 'bad' words :-)

The other day I noticed an interesting pattern in the etymology of words denoting bad.

ചീത്ത sounds very related to ചീയുക - to decay
അഴുക്കു comes from അഴുകുക - to decay

കെട്ട comes from കേടാകുക - to go bad, e.g. milk

So, it seems, that originally bad meant not fit for consumption.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A case against വ്യ

The other day, I noticed the following wrong etymology in a Yoga book (written by a western lady) - that "pranayama = prana + yama = breath + control". Actually, പ്രാണ + യമ = പ്രാണയമ and not പ്രാണായാമ. To get the latter, the word needs to be split as പ്രാണ + ആയാമ, or stretching of breath.

A related word is വ്യായാമം = വി + ആയാമം = cross-stretching. So exercise was orginally cross stretching.

The prefix വി (cross, against) appears in a lot of common mallu words mostly disguised as വ്യ (വി + അ) , as seen in the following:

വ്യതിയാനം, difference or variation, is വി + അതി + യാനം, "to overshoot against (a set mark, probably)"

വ്യഗ്രം, eager, is വി + അഗ്രം, "up against the edge"

വ്യാഖ്യാനം, explanation, is വി + ആഖ്യാനം, "cross explain"

Of course, there is another prefix വി, which is an intensifier which appears in വിജ്ഞാനം, വിശുദ്ധം, etc.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


[Sorry for the long hiatus. Had been on an India trip.]

What is the etymology of സൌമ്യത?

Here is my explanation: സൌമ്യത comes from സുമത , or the quality of being a flower (
സുമം). Obviously, someone who has സൌമ്യത will be meek like a flower.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

ചേന നന നാനാരേ

For my previous post, I got a comment that asked about rules for pronouncing ന.
Now, I don't really know of any rules so I thought why not try to derive some. Looking at some some of the words that have ന or ന്‍, I came up with the heuristics:

  • When it begins a word, ന is pronounced Na. e.g. നിലാവ്, നുള്ളി, നൃപന്‍, നെടുകേ
  • When it occurs as a simple letter (i.e. a non-compund letter), it is pronounced na. e.g. കനല്‍, കനി, മനുഷ്യന്‍, അങ്ങനെ,
  • When it occurs as the chillu (ന്‍) it is always pronounced n

These heuristics seem to work even for complex cases like നാനാനനന്‍ (Naanaananan - ബ്രഹ്മാവ്‌).

The heuristics for complex letters don't seem as simple. Let us look at some examples:

  • തിന്നുക is nnu, തിന്നു is NNu
  • പന്ന is nna, പന്നി is NNi
  • നിമ്നം is na, നഗ്നം is Na

So, there doesn't seem to be a rule.

I am tempted to say that words of Sanskrit origin use na whereas Na is used only in words of Tamil origin. But this also doesn't explain the Tamil words with pronunciation of na.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Origin of നെയ്യ്

Don't know if many people noticed the poll about the origin of നെയ്യ്.

I was surprised to find (in Gundert) that നെയ്യ് is the തത്ഭവം of സ്നേഹം. The first meaning of സ്നേഹം in Sanskrit is oiliness, or greasiness. Presumably, the word came about as: സ്നേഹം -> നേഹം -> നേയം(?) (because there is no ഹ in Tamil?) -> നെയ്യ്.

[I have to admit that I highly suspect this etymology - just because the word roots and the meanings match does not mean that one is derived from the other. E.g. consider "one" and "ഒന്നു". Very similar and identical in meaning, but they have entirely different origins (the former comes from Proto-Indo-European root *oinos and the latter is purely Dravidian).

This also reminds me of similar claims that some Sanskrit words were derived from Tamil - ഇഷ്ടം from ഇടുതം, കഷ്ടം from കടുതം etc. I read about these at a website but I am equally uncomfortable with the argument]

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


പണ്ടെങ്ങോ വായിച്ചതാണ്...

ദോശ comes from ദ്വ + ഓശ, meaning "two sounds". The article said that the sounds refer to the 'sssssssss' sounds when you first pour it and when you flip it.


(Gundert says that ദോശ comes from Tamil's തോച, but doesn't say where തോച comes from.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Number system

I read somewhere that the original Dravidian number system was base-eight.

Indeed the names for our numbers reflect this.

One through seven have unique roots.

Eight is എട്ടു which comes from എണ്‍, which actually means 'number'. (Compare with എണ്ണുക, എണ്ണം)

Nine is ഒമ്പത് which came from തൊമ്പത് = തൊള്‍ + പത് , "almost ten". Compare with 90 തൊണ്ണൂറ് , 900 തൊള്ളായിരം. (Aside: This used to be a bit confusing when I was a little kid.)

Ten is പത്ത് which came from പന്തി which is a തത്ഭവം of പങ്ക്തി, meaning row. Probably derived from saying "there is a row of things".

Now, we all know that our current base-ten system was a result of humans having ten fingers. So how can a base-eight system evolve "naturally"?

My explanation is that early Dravidians might have used their thumbs to touch other fingers when they counted. This leaves the eight fingers to do the actual counting leading to the development of the octal system.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Going Cryptic...

This morning, I was solving a cryptic crossword puzzle and wondered if they have such puzzles in Malayalam. Once in a copy of ശാസ്ത്രകേരളം I came across the following:

ഇതാ, മരത്തിലെ പൂവാണ് (3)

The answer is താമര, hidden in the clue itself.

Then I thought, how about using some of the other techniques found in cryptic puzzles in English?

Here are some of my creations:

1. തലയില്ലാക്കുതിര ഹാരമണിഞ്ഞു കടലില് (4)
2. അമ്പ്, വലിയ ഭര്‍ത്താവ് (4)
3. തല തിരിഞ്ഞ വള്ളി (2)
4. വകതിരിവു് നമ്മുടെ തമിഴ്പ്പാട്ട് (3)

Can you guess what the answers are?

1. തിരമാല (തലയില്ലാക്കുതിര = തലയില്ലാ "കുതിര" = തിര, ഹാരം = മാല)
2. കണവന് (കണ = അമ്പ്, വന് = വലിയ)
3. ലത ("തല" തിരിഞ്ഞത് )
4. കവനം (വകതിരിവു് = "വക" തിരിവ് = കവ, "നമ്മുടെ തമിഴ്" = നം)

I agree, some of these are a stretch, but can you come up with some good examples?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Going in circles?

Well, this is another digression from word roots. This is about വൃത്തങ്ങള് - meters. In particular, those meters with very few letters.

(Most of the material I read long ago in Ravivarma's വൃത്തശാസ്ത്രം and elsewhere. Now, writing from memory, so there may be some inaccuracies.)

Obviously, the shortest meter must be of one letter. Strange as it may seem, indeed there are names for such meters.

One with a single laghu is named ഖഗ. Its
ലക്ഷണം is:


The one with a single guru is ശ്രീ. Its ലക്ഷണം is:
I also remember one two-letter meter: ശിവം. Its ലക്ഷണം is:
Interesting, but one might wonder, were there really poems made in these meters?

I don't know. I suspect not many, if at all. I believe that these were defined for the sake of completeness. (It is a very interesting detour that the വൃത്തശാസ്ത്രം has very deep binary mathematics embedded in it. For example, it talks about determining the number of വൃത്തം in a given ഛന്ദസ്സ് - which is equivalent to evaluating 2^n.)

The ശാസ്ത്രം also indicates that meters with less than five letters (five, if I remember correctly, may be it is six; someone please correct me), were intended for the devas. This might be a reference to Sanskrit. The next set of meters are for men and the last set are for asuras. Perhaps devas had richer vocabulary enabling them to communicate in terse, one or two letter lines!

One can find nursery rhymes in five letter meters. E.g.:
ക ഖ ഗ ഘ ങാ...
ക ഖ ഗ ഘ ങാ...
എനിക്കും താ ചേട്ടാ
A six-lettered meter I know is തനുമധ്യ. It is two guru's, two laghus and two gurus. Literally, the name means "thin in the middle"; figuratively, it means beautiful woman. Unfortunately, I only remember the first and last lines of the shlokam:

പണ്ടങ്ങള്‍ വെടിഞ്ഞും

Technically, this doesn't exactly fit the വൃത്തം (e.g. the first line is ഗഗഗലഗ, instead of ഗഗലലഗഗ, but I guess if you sing it appropriately it fits in).

P.S. A ശ്ലോകം with more than 24 letters in a line are called ദണ്ടകം. There are lots of കഥകളിപ്പദങ്ങള്‍ in ദണ്ടകം format.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


One of the cool figures of speech is യമകം. The classical definition goes as follows:

ആവര്ത്തിച്ചുകഥിച്ചീടില്‍ യമകം പല മാതിരി.
And the classical example is:

മാലതീമലര്‍ ചേര്ന്നോരു
മാല തീജ്വാലയെന്നപോല്‍
മാലതീതുല്യയങ്ങു നീ
Now, here is an interesting game that you can play with യമകം. Remember, the "use in sentence" that we had back in school? It is the same thing here, but you have to use the word in a non-conventional meaning.

Here are some examples:

Word: അവനി (earth)
Sentence: അവനിനി വരില്ല. (അവന് + ഇനി)

Word: അരമന (castle)
Sentence: അരമനസ്സുമായവള് സമ്മതം മൂളി.

Word: ഒരുമ
Sentence: ഒരുമഞ്ഞക്കിളി പാടി.

Can you come up with more examples?

Lost in Translation

In a previous post, I briefly hinted on ശൈലി being a component of characterizing something as pure mallu. I thought I could explore that a little bit by means of some small pieces of translation that I attempted.

I must admit up front that these are not the very best of translations, but one can always learn a thing or two from a bad example :-) At the very least, I thought it will help as an (indirect) application of the theoretical pure mallu that I have been writing about.

I should also add that I was a bit (over?) inspired by one of AR Rajarajavarma's articles that I found at puzha.com.

The first piece is from Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. The following lines are from Scene 1 where Dr. Faustus welcomes Valdes and Cornelius and says that he is ready to learn dark magic.

Come, German Valdes and Cornelius,
And make me blest with your sage conference.
Valdes, sweet Valdes, and Cornelius,
Know that your words have won me at last.

Here is how I attempted to translate this into malayalam:

വാള്‍ഡസേ, വാങ്ക കൊര്‍ണേലിയോസേ,
വാഴ്ത്തുവീനെന്നെ വിശേഷവാക്കാല്‍
വാള്‍ഡസേ, ചാരു കൊര്‍ണേലിയോസേ,
വാക്കുകള്‍ താവകമെന്നെ വെന്നു.
(Like I warned you before, not the best piece of translation)

The second one is from the short story The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. The story begins as follows:

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
And this is the translation that I came up with:
ഒരു രൂപാ എണ്പത്തേഴു പൈസാ. അത്രമാത്രം. അതില്‍ അറുപതു പൈസയും ഒറ്റയണകള്‍. നാണവും മാനവും വകവെക്കാതെ, കന്നം ചുവക്കുംവരെ കുടക്കാരനോടും കടക്കാരനോടും ഗുസ്തി പിടിച്ചു സ്വരൂപിച്ച ഒറ്റയണകള്‍ ...
പിറ്റേന്നാണു ക്രിസ്മസ്.
(I personally think this is much better than the Faustus translation, but still not definitely the best.)

The third one is from an old Hindi movie song. Here it goes:
राजा के माथे तिलक लगेगा
राणी के मांग सिन्दूर, राणी के मांग सिन्दूर...
मैं भी अपनी मन की आशा
पूरी करूंगी ज़रूर, पूरी करूंगी ज़रूर...
Which, when translated by me, becomes:
രാജാവുതാനോ തൊടുകുറി ചാര്‍ത്തി
സിന്ദൂരം ചാര്‍ത്തി റാണീ, സിന്ദൂരം ചാര്‍ത്തി റാണീ...
ഞാനുമെന്റെ അഭിലാഷങ്ങള്‍
സംപൂര്‍ണമാക്കും തോഴീ, സംപൂര്‍ണമാക്കും തോഴീ...
Now, that I have gotten the worst part of this post out we can proceed with the analysis (if you are still with me, that is).

Primarily we want to see what aspects of translations are close to pure mallu and what aspects are not.

Before I proceed with my own analysis, do you have any thoughts?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

More on Oil

In one of the earlier posts, I expounded on the origin of oil.

Here is a little afterthought: the Sanskrit word for oil is തൈലം, which is derived from തിലം sesame. So even in the Sanskrit speaking world, oil must have been first extracted from sesame!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Lost Steam

After the initial couple of posts, I lost steam a bit. Didn't know what word to analyze.

Then I thought, how about steam? The mallu word for steam is ആവി; നീരാവി, to be really specific. ആവി is just vapor.

We also have the verb അവിയുക - to cook in steam, from which comes the name of our favorite mallu dish അവിയല്‍്.

ആവി also appears in the verb ആവിയെടുക്കുക, to feel hot or sweaty. I guess, it originally meant to feel "steamy".

Interestingly, ആവി in Tamil also means spirit or ghost. So നീരാവി could also be interpreted as the spirit of water!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

By Land or By Sea - II

In part I, I hit upon a theory about the root വള്‍് by analyzing the words വണ്ടി and വള്ളം. Subsequently, I came across an online version of ഗുണ്ട്ര്‍്ട്ടു നിഘണ്ടു which says the root of വണ്ടി is indeed വള്‍്. In fact, it is the same വള്‍് which we see in വളയുക to turn.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

അള്ളയും പടച്ചോനും

Two words for God are അള്ളാ and പടച്ചോന്.

അള്ളാ obviously is Arabic. (For those interested in Arabic etymology, it comes from അല്‍ + ലാഹ് - the God, the one and only God).

പടച്ചോന് is of mallu origin. It is the contraction of പടച്ചവന് - the one who made everything.

The root is പട, which also means army.

What is the connection between "army" and "to make"?

Now if we were to take the root പട to mean "to arrange", things fall into place. God arranged everything. An army is an arrangement of soldiers. So പട as a root means "to arrange".

Another word related to army is അണി, as in പടയണി. We can also see the root in അണി നിരക്കുക, to assemble. We also see അണി in അണിയുക - to wear - literally, to arrange clothes or ornaments on one's person.

So now, applying the reverse logic, is there a word that means God that has the അണി root in it?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Black and White

Black is കറുപ്പ്, it is the same in Tamil as well. The root is കറു. It can be seen in other words like കറുക്കുക (to blacken), കറുകറുത്ത (very black) etc.
A related root is കാര്‍്, also meaning black, as in കാര്‍വര്‍ണ്ണന്‍ .

White is വെളുപ്പ്. It comes from വെള്‍്. Other related words are വെള്ള (white, adj.), വെണ്മ (വെള്‍് + മ) brightness.

Interestingly, we can see വെള്‍് in words related to light as well e.g. വെളിച്ചം, വെട്ടം (വെള്‍് + തം).

Another similar-sounding but different root is വെല് (to defeat). One can see it in വെന്നു (വെല് + തു), defeated.

What do they sell, again?

Somewhere I came across the following; thought I will share it here.

What do they sell at a വളക്കട?

Is it വള (bangle)? വള + കട = വളക്കട. (normal സന്ധി rules).

Or is ti വളം (manure)? വളം വില്ക്കുന്ന കട = വളക്കട (normal സമാസം rules).

You decide :-)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mother Earth

What is the pure mallu word for earth?

If we are referring to earth (land), I guess it would be നിലം. I suppose it comes from the root നില്‍് meaning "to stand"; of course, the land just stands there and doesn't go anywhere. കര is another word for land; it also means shore (cf. അക്കര). I don't know it's etymology, though.

If we are referring to earth (soil), I guess it would be മണ്ണു, coming from the root മണ്‍്.

What about planet earth? ഭൂമി, ഭൂഗോളം etc are "obviously Sanskrit". So what would the pure mallu word be?

Or did the concept of earth as a planet did not exist until the advent of Sanskrit sub-culture?

P.S. Did you know that there are (at least) three one-letter words denoting earth? These are all obviously Sanskrit. They are: ഭൂ, ജ്യാ, ക്ഷ്മാ

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


A simple "Yes" in mallu is ഉവ്വു, coming from ഉ + ഉ് (സംവൃതോകാരം). Another form is ഉവ്വ.

Isn't it cool?

To Be or Not To Be

The main mallu root that means to come into existence (to be) is ഉള്‍. One can see this root in a variety of words:
  • ഉണ്ടു - yes, there is; from ഉള്‍ + തു (our friend ആദേശസന്ധി) (This word also happens to be the past tense of ഉണ്ണുക - to have a meal.)
  • ഉണ്ടാകുക - to come into existence, by extension
  • ഉള്ള - having
  • ഉള്ളത് - by extension, truth
  • ഉണ്മ - verity, truth; from ഉള്‍ + മ (ആദേശസന്ധി yet again)
Interestingly, ഉള്‍ also means inside, as we can see in:
  • ഉള്ളം - mind, that which is "inside" a person
  • ഉള്ളില്‍ - inside; an interesting construction since it comes from ഉള്‍ + ഇല്‍് , both noun and suffix meaning inside
  • ഉള്ളി - onion! (I added it here because I think an onion is called ഉള്ളി because of the many "insides" that it has.)
Another word that means to be is ആകുക. So ഉണ്ടാകുക above actually means "to become yes". Once can also see that the meanings of existence and truth are closely linked.

What about non-existence?

ഇല്ല is the simplest word denoting non-existence. It can mean "no" or "not". As a suffix, ആ is also used to denote the negative. e.g. കുടാ - cannot join.

By land or by sea

This post is about transportation.

A boat is called a വള്ളം.
A cart is called a വണ്ടി.

Isn't it interesting that both start with വ?

That's not all. If you look deeper, you can see something more.

The underlying root for വള്ളം could be വള്‍് (just like the underlying root of വെള്ളം is വെള്‍് - white).

Using reverse ആദേശസന്ധി we can split വണ്ടി as

വണ്ടി = വള്‍് + തി

Thus we see the same വള്‍് here also!

If my above analysis is correct (and that is a big IF), വള്‍് can be thought of as the underlying root that means transportation, movement, etc.

The only other words that I can think of starting with വള്‍് are
  • വള - bangle
  • വളവ് - curve
  • വളം - manure
  • വളി - stale air (see previous post on this)
They don't seem to be related to the വള്‍് root discovered above.

However, I would like to stick with this discovery until somebody proves it wrong :-)

യ ര ല വ

I read somewhere that there is no pure Tamil word starting with യ. Yes, there are words like യവം, യക്ഷി, etc. but they are all "obviously Sanskrit".

I read somewhere else that there is no pure Tamil word starting with ര! Now this might come as a surprise especially given the tons of words that have ര in them. But the claim is that there is no pure Tamil word starting with ര. You always have a vowel (usually ഇ) preceding it. e.g. ഇരവു, ഇരണ്ടു, അരചന്‍്.

I didn't read anywhere that there is no pure Tamil word starting with ല, may be I didn't read enough. But the hypothesis seems very plausible when I think of the words starting with ല. E.g. ലക്ഷ്മി, ലവണം, ലഗാന്‍്, etc. ലക്കു് sounds like a possible candidate, but it is possible that it is a തത്ഭവം of ലക്ഷ്യം (ലക്ഷ്യം -> ലക്കം -> ലക്കു്)

I didn't read anywhere that there is no pure Tamil word starting with വ. Of course, there are tons of words that start with വ.

So why is വ different?

If we consider the next four alphabets (ശ, ഷ, സ, ഹ) we see that there are no pure Tamil words starting with these letters as well. It is conceivable that these sounds came directly from Sanskrit. They don't appear in common pure Tamil words.

But യ, ര, ല, വ appear in pure Tamil words quite frequently. So why only വ is used to begin words and the others are not?

കാറും ബസ്സും

No, this post is not about transportation - though that might have been a good topic as well.

This post is about the structure of words.

In the mallu grammer study, the great Koyi Thampuran prescribed "പദമില്ലൊറ്റമാത്രയില്‍്", that is to say, there are no words in one മാത്ര. A മാത്ര is the basic length of sound - equivalent to that of a short vowel.

So when we adopted words like 'bus' and 'car' into mallu, we added our friend സംവൃതോകാരം to the end. This adds another മാത്റ so these can be proper words. Thus, "bus" became "bussu". Similarly, "switch" became "switchu" etc.

Now, if you were very discerning, you would have noticed that "car" has two മാത്റs , so technically it can be a stand alone word. So why should it need the additional 'u' at the end?

I actually don't know the answer to that. Looking at similar two മാത്റ words, we can see that many of them acquire the 'u' at the end. E.g. തീ -> തീയ്, പൂ -> പൂവ്, കാ -> കായ്, ചോര്‍് -> ചോറ്.

So my explanation is that those two maathra words were considered as roots. Note that if the two maathras are because of different letters then it is "okay", e.g. തല, പന

Polishing Peanuts

One mallu word for peanut is കപ്പലണ്ടി - a combination of കപ്പല്‍ (ship) and അണ്ടി (nut). Indicating that peanuts were introduced by traders who came by the sea.

Another mallu word is നിലക്കടല - a combination of നിലം (ground) and കടല (nut, legume). This indicates how peanuts are cultivated. Interestingly, peanuts are also called groundnuts in English.

So I am tempted to hypothesize that കപ്പലണ്ടി is an older word than നിലക്കടല. Unfortunately, I do not have the resources to verify my claim.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sticking the neck out

Neck is കഴുത്തു്. Its root, കഴു.

Let us look at some other words that start with കഴു:
  • കഴുമരം - gallows (കഴു + മരം )
  • കഴുവേറി (offensive, use carefully) - thief (കഴു + ഏറി)
All linked to the meaning of neck. But how about:
  • കഴു - to wash (കഴുകുക)
  • കഴുത - donkey!
  • കഴുകന്‍ - vulture
Not sure how these are linked to neck. One might argue that the load is put on a donkey's back or around its neck. Also, the vulture has an especially curved neck.

But how about the meaning of "to wash"?

As luck would have it

ഭാഗ്യം is the usual word for good luck.

It is an "obviously Sanskrit" word. However, in Sanskrit it means "fortune", without any specific positive connotation. To specify good luck, one would say സൌഭാഗ്യം and to specify bad luck, one would say ദൌര്‍ഭാഗ്യം. These words mean the same in mallu as well.

ഭാഗ്യം in turn comes from ഭഗം. A little online root analysis indicates that ഭഗം = ഭ + ഗം. In Sanskrit, ഭ (among other things) means "star" (e.g. ഭചക്റം - the starry host); ഗം means "to go". So ഭഗം is the way a star goes, that is to say, decided by the stars. ഭഗ also means god (cf. ഭഗവാന്‍)

Now what is the pure mallu word for luck?

The Tamil word for luck is അതിര്‍ടം or അതിര്‍ഷ്ടം - definitely not "pure mallu". തലയിലെഴുത്തു് is pure mallu, but it is not exactly luck; it is fate.

What is "Pure Mallu"?

In many of the posts, I refer to this "esoteric" language called "pure mallu".

What is pure mallu?

We know that Malayalam (മലയാളം) is an offspring of Sanskrit and Tamil. As the poem goes:

സംസ്കൃതഭാഷതന്‍ സ്വാഭാവികൌജ്ജസ്സും
സാക്ഷാല്തതമിഴിന്റെ സൌന്ദര്യവും
ഒത്ത്തുചെര്ന്നുള്ളൊരു ഭാഷയാനെന്ഭാഷ
മത്താടിക്കൊള്കഭിമാനമേ നീ
So there are Tamil words and Sanskrit words that are inseparable from the Mallu vocabulary and it is difficult to accurately classify a word to be "obviously" Sanskrit or "obviously" Tamil and if neither, "pure mallu".

But still, I believe, at some level we can talk about a similar, but vague notion. Consider the mallu word for "pure mallu".
  • ശുദ്ധമലയാളം is "obviously" Sanskrit
  • തനിമലയാളം is "obviously" Tamil, whereas
  • പച്ചമലയാളം is "pure mallu"!
So the definition of "pure mallu" includes not only the word roots themselves but also their stylistic connotations.

Also, there could be situations where a pure mallu counterpart is not available for an "obviously Sanskrit" or "obviously Tamil" word.

So why bother with this "incomplete", artificial "pure mallu"?

I believe looking for "pure mallu" alternatives helps in analyzing the etymology and history of mallu words. It helps us know when, if at all, they crossed over from the realm of pure Tamil or pure Sanskrit into the mallu world. Some words didn't cross over - and it is interesting to study them too. They help delineate concepts that were originally mallu from concepts that were borrowed from Sanskrit or Tamil sub-cultures.

Put a name to a face

What is the pure mallu word for face?

മുഖം is the most common word, but it is Sanskrit.

What about മോന്ത? Or മുന്നി? The latter sounds like it is from മുന്‍ (front).

The Elements

There are tons of examples where otherwise "harmless" Tamil words developed negative connotations in mallu.

വളി in Tamil means "air". Just air.
വെളി in Tamil means "outside"

Both are words, word roots in mallu also.

വളി came to mean stale air, stench (cf. വളിക്കുക), and by extension അധോവായു.

വെളി still means outside. However, in the euphemism "വെളിക്കു പോകുക" it has picked up a negative connotation.

Yes, I used examples that are "mostly harmless". There are other words that might be a bit "hairy", which clearly demonstrate that the original Tamil word was entirely neutral but the mallu cousin is totally shady.

The more interesting question is why could such negative connotations have developed? An indication of class structure wherein language of the upper class (Sanskrit) was considered more refined and positive than the language of the lower class (Prakrits and Mallu)?

What to write?

The basic mallu word for "write" is എഴുതുക, the underlying root being എഴു.

One can see the same (I suppose) എഴു in the following words as well:
  • എഴുന്നു് - raised above the surface
  • എഴുന്നേല്ക്കുക - to raise oneself up (either from a sitting or lying position)
So what has writing got to do with these meanings?

Were we to consider the origins of writing - of scratching letters on palm leaves - we can get a clue. The letters "stood out" (എഴുന്നുനിന്നു) hence they were called എഴുത്തു്.

What about the components of writing? We have വര, കുറി (for lines, dashes), വള്ളി, പുള്ളി, കുനിപ്പു് (all for tittles) and കുത്തു് (for jot and full stop).

What about the letters themselves? അക്ഷരം is the word currently used to denote a (complete) letter. But അക്ഷരം obviously comes from Sanskrit (it actually means indestructible, indivisible, etc.). So are വര്ണ്ണം and കാരം. So what is the corresponding pure mallu word?

Or, is it that linguistics was formalized only with the advent of Sanskrit?

What about writing instruments? The original one would have been a നാരായം or എഴുത്താണി (in pure mallu). What about pen and ink? I don't think there are pure mallu words for these. പേന is most likely from "pen". മഷി is Sanskrit. മൈ is more mallu, but it looks almost like a തത്ഭവം from മഷി (മഷി -> മയി -> മൈ ).

What about paper? Originally they used പനയോല. Then came paper - കടലാസു്. I don't know the origin of the latter though.

Turning words

The three basic rotations are roll, yaw and pitch (for details refer to this diagram)

What would the corresponding mallu words be? I think they will be:

തിരി = yaw (cf. ഇടംവലംതിരിയുക), turn
മറി = pitch (cf. കീഴ്മേല്മറിയുക ), overturn
ചെരി = roll (from the general meaning of the verb), tilt

തിരി also means
  • wick - and of course, a wick is created by "turning" (or rolling) a piece of cotton
  • a lamp, by extension. as in മെഴുകുതിരി
  • to divide - as in തരംതിരിക്കുക
  • to understand, to discriminate (as in a rational process) - from the previous meaning, as in വകതിരിവു്
ചെരി also means
  • to "elephant-die" i.e. to die, used only in the case of elephant. Figurative, of course.

Derived words

Some common derived words:

ഐശ്വര്യം from ഈശ്വരന്‍ - God
സൗകര്യം from സുകരം - easy
ഗൌരവം from ഗുരു - great
സൌഭാഗ്യം from സുഭഗം (സു + ഭഗം) - good fortune
ഔദാര്യം from ഉദാരം - generous (Did this in turn come from ഉദരം - stomach?)

So when you say someone's face has ഐശ്വര്യം you imply that they look like God :-)

എണ്ണയും വെണ്ണയും

എണ്ണ came from എള്‍ (sesame) + നെയ് (grease/fat), hinting that oil was first extracted (at least to the knowledge of mallus) from sesame.

വെണ്ണ came from വെള്‍ (white) + നെയ് (grease/fat), obviously from the color of butter.

(The sandhi rule used in the formation of these words is ആദേശസന്ധി.)

So നെയ് originally meant just grease or fat. It also appears in compounds like നെയ്മീന്‍, നെയ്ച്ചൊറു്, etc. As a stand alone word, it refers to ghee or clarified butter.


തെന്നല് actually means wind from the south! ( തെന്‍ = south)

What is the word for wind from the north?

Monday, March 17, 2008


തോന്നുക = think involuntarily

താന്തോന്നി = rogue; one who acts based on the thoughts that arise in his mind, almost to the detriment of others

There is a component of involuntariness in this kind of thinking.

What is the pure mallu word for thinking voluntarily? "വിചാരിക്കുക" would have worked, but it is originally from Sanskrit. So are "ചിന്തിക്കുക", "ആലോചിക്കുക".

ഓര്ക്കുക is voluntary thought - but it is specific to recollecting something that happened in the past.

How about നിനയ്ക്കുക? It might mean "to assume".