Quote for the day!


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

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?