Quote for the day!


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

Monday, September 1, 2014

Matching names

Here is an interesting application of Malayalam etymology that I came across the other day.

The famous നളചരിതം ആട്ടക്കഥ was written by ഉണ്ണായിവാര്യർ. There is also another work രാമപഞ്ചശതി written by a രാമൻ. Literary criticism points to these two works being written by the same author.

But, how can രാമൻ  be the  same person as ഉണ്ണായിവാര്യർ?

Looking at the origin of the name ഉണ്ണായിവാര്യർ clarifies things a bit. The part വാര്യർ is the caste name. So the poet's name was ഉണ്ണായി.  Here is a possible chain, proposed by poets like ഉള്ളൂർ:

രാമൻ was affectionately called ഉണ്ണിരാമൻ . Like, മായ becomes ഉണ്ണിമായ,  and കൃഷ്ണൻ becomes  ഉണ്ണിക്കൃഷ്ണൻ.

ഉണ്ണിരാമൻ got shorted to ഉണ്‍രാമൻ and in turn to ഉണ്ണാമൻ.

ഉണ്ണാമൻ became ഉണ്ണാവൻ (like അമ്മാമൻ transformed to അമ്മാവൻ, and കമുങ്ങ്  became കവുങ്ങ്  )

ഉണ്ണാവൻ + വാര്യർ  = ഉണ്ണാവാര്യർ

ഉണ്ണാവാര്യർ further got shortened to ഉണ്ണാവി.  

ഉണ്ണാവി then transformed to ഉണ്ണായി, like അമ്മാവി becomes അമ്മായി or തെയ് വം  became തെയ്യം

Thus, രാമവാര്യർ came to be known as ഉണ്ണായിവാര്യർ!

Of course, this chain is not a "proof" that they were the same person. Other literary and historical evidence also points to these two being the same poets. However, the etymology chain is an important supporting evidence.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


Did you know the origin of the word for door?

വാതിൽ came from വായ് - mouth.

വായ്‌ + ഇൽ = വായിൽ which got modified to വാതിൽ!

Of course, the door is the mouth of the house!

Thursday, May 29, 2014


An often-used word for star is താരം. Why is star called that?

തരിപ്പാൻ സഹായിക്കുന്നത് താരം

okay what does തരിക്കുക mean here?

In this context, തരിക്കുക = തരണം ചെയ്യുക, which means to cross over, as in using a boat.

So, താരം is something that helps to cross over (as in a boat), i.e. to help navigate a boat.

Of course, in ancient times, people used stars to navigate their boats.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Crazy doubles

The other day I came across the word ദ്വിരേഫം. Literally, this means "two രs". I looked up the dictionary and it says this means വണ്ട്‌  (beetle). So why the name "two രs"?

It turns out that the Sanskrit word for beetle is ഭ്രമരം and in writing this word there are two ര sounds.

Thus, the name ദ്വിരേഫം is like a code name for  ഭ്രമരം. The dictionary also says another word ദ്വിരം for beetle.

So I started searching through all ദ്വി- words and found another one:

ദ്വികകാരം = കാക്ക

Of course, this is even more matching since not only the word കാക്ക has two ക sounds, the bird itself cries "കാ കാ" :-)

(ദ്വികകാരം also has a short form: ദ്വികം)

p.s.  Interestingly it does not work with other established suffixes. For example,

ദ്വിപം = ദ്വി + പം = twice + drinking = elephant (of course, it "drinks" through the trunk and then through the mouth)

ദ്വിജം = ദ്വി + ജം = twice born = brahmin

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Relatively Speaking

ബന്ധവും സ്വന്തവും

A reader asked about the etymology for relationship names like father, mother, etc.

Here is what I could find.

The generic word for brother is സഹോദരൻ = സഹ + ഉദര + അൻ, meaning the one born from the same womb. അൻ is the masculine particle. The word for sister is സഹോദരി.

There are more specific words. Elder brother is ചേട്ടൻ which is derived from the Sanskrit word ജ്യേഷ്ഠൻ . Elder sister is ചേച്ചി, (I guess the feminine form of ചേട്ടൻ .)

Younger brother is അനിയൻ, derived form Sanskrit അനുജൻ (the one born after). Younger sister is അനിയത്തി or അനുജത്തി.

Mother is അമ്മ, apparently derived from അംബ (according to the dictionary). Father is അച്ഛൻ. It is derived from അജ്ജ which is the Prakit form of the Sanskrit word ആര്യ meaning great one, respected one.

One final tidbit. Both സ്വന്തക്കാർ and ബന്ധക്കാർ mean relatives. However, the former are the blood relatives. The latter are relatives that are because of marriage (ബന്ധം).