A Blissful Blessing

I almost forgot to comment the two footnotes I have marked in my last article (White Wedding). First is the English word bliss (spiritual joy; OE. bletsian, bledsian ; Serb. blaženstvo; from blag ‘placid’, blažen ‘blissful, placid’; Russ. блаженство), which appeared to be related with bless, although I didn’t find any serious etymologist who would be ready to link these two words explicitly. It is interesting to mention that The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology says that bliss may be relate to blood (!). Chambers (Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, p. 42), for instance, related bliss with OE bletsian ‘consecrate’ and Gothic blotan ‘sacrifice, kill’, while Skeat (Etymological Dictionary, p. 52) was more specific, saying that the “original sense (of bless) may have been ‘to consecrate by blood’ (also Kluge, “sprinkle with blood” – English Etymology, p. 20-21).

In his book, with an indicative title: A Dictionary of True Etymologies (p. 22), Adrian Room is resolute: “”The derivation of the word is not from ‘blessed’ but from an Old English word related to ‘blithe’. (‘Bless,’ unexpectedly, is related to ‘blood’)”. The authors of The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European (p. 194), Mallory and Admas, introduced the PIE root *wolno/eha– (Lat. volnus, Gr. οὐλή, Skr. व्रण vraṇa. Of course, a small umlaut “correction” and it is possible to relate bledsian to sprinkle with blood’ to blood and bleed (ses Lyle Campbell, Historical Liguistics, p. 252), but the problem is that the same thing can be done with the word bliss. Namely, bliss appeared to be unrelated to to bless, although it is related to blithe (from OE bliþe, OHG blidi ‘gay, friendly’; ON bliðr ‘mild, gentle’).

Now, let us compare English bless and bliss with Serbian blag ‘mild’, blagosloven ‘blessed’ and blažen ‘blissful’ (Vasmer, I, p. 171; Russ. блажен ‘blissful, placid’, благословение ‘blessing, benediction’). It seems obvious that Slavic languages have the similar words for both bless and bliss. In Czech and Serbian, the word blaženost could be translated as bless as well as bliss; and that word is a derivative of blag (Cz. blaho ‘bless, bliss’). Here we could compare Slavic and Latin words for blessing. On the other side are the Latin words, beatus ‘blessed happy’, bonus ‘good’ and benignus ‘kind, favorable, obliging’ and all three of them may be translated as blessed. Is it possible that these words, together with those mentioned above (Slavic and Germanic), originated from the common basis? If so, what that basis would be? Isidore de Seville explains: “Beatus, blessed or happy, is as if bene ductus, well enriched, namely from having what he wishes and enduring nothing he does not want” (Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies: translated by Priscilla Throop; p. x.16). Does it not mean the same as English bliss? Isidore also depicted a vague difference among those words and, in addition, mentioned Latin blandus ‘flatering, charming person’. In Greek, the relation between bless and bliss is very close to that in Slavic and Latin: ὄλβιος, ὄλβος ‘blest, happy’, ὀλβία ‘bliss’. Hence, it seems, the question imposes itself: how it happened that only Germanic languages connected ‘blood’ and ‘happiness’/bliss’. Does it make sense at all?

From his own side, Fransis Volpey suggested three possible sources of the Latin word beo ‘make happy, bless’. First was the Greek word βίος ‘life’, and alternative was βύω ‘to stuff, to fool’ and βέο ‘to go’ βέομαι ‘Ishel live’ (probably related to βαίνω ‘step, walk, βαίνειν , make to go’). To add a little more confusion, let us mention Czech blázen ’fool’ vs. blaženýblissful, beatific’ (Serb. bulazniti ‘talk nonsense’, blesa ‘fool’). What about English fool and full; are these two words related or not? Fool comes from Latin follis ‘a leather bag, bellows, purse, puffed-out cheek’, which is from its side related to flatus –us ‘blow, inflate’ (cf. Serb. nabudžiti, budžiti ,bulge’, buđelar ‘purse’, bešika ‘bellows, bladder’). Now, although it might look as some sort of confabulation, it seems, wherever we look we can see the same “progenitor” word, which sounded close to that “imaginary” basis — named earlier *belgh-ghno- (White Wedding).

Greek βαίνω appeared to be akin to Latin venio –ire ‘come, arrive’, and its pro- prefixed form πρρβαίνειν ‘come forward’ seems to be the same kind word as Serbian probijanje ‘pushing forward’ (cf. Skr. प्रबाध् prabādh, ‘drive, urge’, Serb. probadati ‘to pierce, puncture’. In reality, it may be that all the above mention words originated from the one unique word-well-generator. Like in the Bible: in the beginning was the word. Actually, beginning may be of a key importance for the understanding of the process of the branching of words. How can we suppose that, for instance, Serbian početak ‘beginning’ may be related to English beginning, if we do not start to analyze all possible semantic links between these two words. The true is that phonetic laws could be of great help in certain cases, but, on the other hand, they might be a big obstacle in the process of understanding of the evolution of human speech. There are many irregular changes to take the sound laws as an undeniable “measure of the truth”.

One more example: what to say about possible kinship of the Serbian word polazak, polaženje ‘to start/to go off’, moving forward’ and Latin pulsus ‘impulse, beating, blow’. Just when I thought that Serbian polaz ‘setting off, departure’ and the verb puknuti ‘blow up’ were derived from the same “proto-word” as it happened to Latin pullsus (Serb. *bəl-gh-ghən => puknuti ‘explode, blow up’; English blow probably used the same *bəl-gh “basis”, doesn’t matter in what sense, strike or inflate), the “other” word, similar to pulsus, with the meaning of pulse ‘porridge’ came to “blow up” the “prearranged celebration”. Logically, when the thing bulged/inflated to an extreme it had to explode/blow up (the simple law of physics; Latin ex-plodo = Serb. ispaliti ‘to fire off’). Latin puls might be related to Serbian pasulj ‘bean’ (Gr. φάσηλος), and Latin phaselus ‘boat, kanu’ (in accordance to the bean-pod shape of the vessel). Now, visiting Lithuanian dictionary we can find the word pasaulis, which means ‘world’ (similar in Serbian, vaseljena/vasiona ‘universe’). What is happening here? We started with φάσηλος ‘bean,’ phaselus ‘boat, vessel’ (as we can see, vessel came from Lat. phaselus; Gr. φάσηλος), and ended with pasaulis ‘world’ and vaseljena ‘universe’. Close to vaseljena is the Byzantine emperor, Βασίλειος (Basileios; Serb. p.n. Vasilije). At this moment we are coming to the point where all the above thinking proves or disproves itself. Is it not truth that vessel (boat) belongs to the kind of transportation device?

Then, if vessel (form phaselus, which sounds very similar to Serb. vozilo ‘vehicle’, Skr. vāhika) is transportation device, could that word not be of the same origin as Latin vehiculum –i? In this case things appeared to be self-evident: Latin vehiculum is a compound word consisting of the words veho ‘convey’, drive’ and col- ‘something round, round-shaped’ (like oculus ‘eye’; in Serbian too: vozi ‘drive’ + kolo ‘wheel’ (*vohi-həlo => vozi’lo, contraction; cf. Cz. vozidlo ‘vehicle’). Nevertheless, although the above “explanation” of the origin of vehicle sounds pretty plausible, it is hard to say what pasulj ‘bean’, vaseljena/vasiona ‘cosmos’ and Βασίλειος ‘the Byzantine emperor’ have in common with the notion of driving. Maybe, it is just a coincidence, a chance resemblance, vessel, vozilo, vehicle? Of coarse, it becomes clear that pasulj (Gr. φάσηλος) has been named like that in accordance with its round or kidney-like form. Latin vesica ‘bladder’ is obviously the same word as Serbian bešika ‘bladder’, and this Serbian word may be a Romanian loanword (băşică; Petar Skok, Etimologijski rječnik Hrvatskoga ili Srpskoga jezika, I, p. 141), but it doesn’t change the fact that bešika and vesica (vesiculum; băşică) acquired their names thanks to their round form. Actually, bešika (vesica) is derived from the basic IE proto-form, which sounded closely to the “root” *bəl-gh (many times mentioned here). The basic meaning of such a proto-form is lump or round formation (Serb. oblo ‘round’ OSl. обьлъ, Lat. bulla ‘swelling’, oval ‘egg-like’, OE belgan ‘to swell – with anger’, bylg ‘bulge, bag’, Eng. bulge; Gr. βῶλος ‘lump, clod of earth’, Skr. bhūgola ‘earth, globe’ – probably a metathesis of *bulg-).

The other meanings of the above-mentioned “root” are derived differently in different IE languages. In Serbian, for instance, oblo ‘round’ branched later into words like obliti ‘pour over, suffuse’, obilaziti ‘go arround, to visit’, oblaziti ‘go around’, obilaznica ‘detour’, obilaženje ‘detouring’, polaziti ‘start, to go off, depart’. Similar process can be followed in English too: from ball, visit to begin. Now, I hope, we can see the multitude of sound changes that hardly may be traced down in a satisfactory manner (assimilation, dissimilation, metathesis, aphaeresis, haplology, epenthesis, elision, umlaut, ablaut etc.), and, what seems to be the biggest problem, there are a lot of unpredictable changes that can not be subjected to any regular rule. For instance, we can only “understand” the process of phonetic mutation, which split up the *bəl-gh basis to three different words with different but close meanings: one is the above-mentioned palaz-ak ‘setting off’, then it comes pogon ‘driving force’, and finally – početak, počinjanje ‘beginning’. The both words, English beginning and Serbian počinjanje ‘beginning’ appeared to have the same morphology, both have bə- prefixed form of the common ‘”stem” *ghon-. This *ghon-, as a bound morpheme (almost always) indicates a certain kind of movement/motion (cf. Ger. beginnen ‘begin, start, commence’, begegnen ‘meet, encounter’, begehen ‘do, execute, perform, do, commit’, gehen ‘go, move, proceed’, gegen ‘opposite, contra, against’; gucken ‘see, gaze, watch’). In Serbian language, the same morpheme is turned to *čin- (počinjati ‘begin’ (Russ. начинать, Cz. zahájit, začátek, začínat, Pol. zaczynać), počiniti ‘execute, do, commit’ (Russ. учинить, Ita. iniziato ‘initiate’; from Lat. initio ‘initiate’ ab initio ‘from the beginning’, Russ. от начала), a clear-cut counterpart to German begehen (Serb. počiniti nedelo ‘to commit the crime’). All the above-mentioned words might be considered as cognates.

Latin pello pellere ‘beat, drive out, push, strike, drive away’ and bello bellare bellavi, bellatus ‘fight, struggle’ may be of great/crucial importance for the understanding how the IE vocabulary was evolving. Pulsus ‘stroke, beat, pulse, impulse’ seems to be close to Serbian bilo, bijenje ‘throbbing, pulse’ (Russ. биение), as well as to Greek βάλλω/βαλέω ‘throw’ (Russ. валить ‘hurl, throw’; Serb. dial. obaliti ‘fall down, throw’). There is almost no doubt that these words (all seemingly derived form *bəl-gh-ghən- basis) are “cousins” to other “younger” words as Serbian ubijanje ‘killing’, boj, bitka ‘battle’, bolan ‘ill, sick’ (Russ. больной), bol ‘pain’ (Russ.боль), ubadanje/bodenje ‘stabbing, piercing’ (Russ. пробивать, пробить ‘gore, to hole’), paliti ‘burn, spark , burn, stoke a fire, ignite’ (Cz. vypalovat; Russ. воспламенять), opaliti ‘fire off’ (Russ. выпалить). It can hardly be a coincidence that, in this case, Latin and Serbian have the words with a similar phonetics: vulnus ‘wound, mental/emotional hurt’ and bolan ‘painful’, flamma ‘blaze, flame’ and plamen ‘flame, blaze’, even bello bellare seems to be a cognate to Serbian borenje ‘fighting, batlle’ (obviousli from “bol-hre-ghne with the loss of the sound [l]).


Maybe I am not able to explain precisely (especially not in English) what I have in mind, but the main point of my above meditation is my attempt to “instigate” an unconventional approach to the field of comparative linguistics. Namely, how it would be if we did take all the three (above-mentioned) Valpy’s “alternatives” (life, to go, to fill full) as correct? Does it not make sense? The Slavic word bogat ‘wealthy’ (Cz. bohatý, Russ. богатый, OSl. богатъ) may be derived from *bolgat”-; again, the “solution” of this enigma may lie in the Latin words — opulentus opulenta ‘wealthy’ and abundus ‘copious’ or in Greek πλούσιος ‘wealthy’ (Lacon. πλούσιος); all word related to English plenty (Latin plēnus ‘full’, Slavic polno). In Serbian, blago has meanings ‘be well’, ‘treasure’, ‘livestock’ (Russ. для блага народа for the wellfare of the people) and it indicates that the above assumption, that bogat came from *bolgat (one who possess blago, treasure or livestock, all the same) is probably true. Vasmer (I, p. 182) connects bogat to the Slavic noun bog ‘god’ (OSl. богъ, Cz. bůh, Russ. бог, божество), but, according the above analysis, these two words cannot be linked directly. Bog ‘god’ probably acquired that name thanks to his greatness, big (Serb, velik ‘big, bulk’; Serb. veliki bog ‘god is great’, ‘almighty god’; Russ. Великий Бог; Cz. veliký). A special curiosity here: the English word big is phonetically closer to the Slavic word bog, than Slavic velik ‘big’. However, there is the Russian word большой (bol”shoj) ‘big’, which may possibly explain a lot of things about the name of the Slavic god (bog).

Slavic blagosloven ‘blessed’ could be the same word as Latin benedictus (from *belgne-dict-) and both words have the same meaning. It also can hardly be considered as a coincidence. Now we can go back to Saint Isidore’s words mentioned above: beatus –a -um ‘blessed, blissful’, bonus -um, ‘good’, benignus –a –um ‘kindly, mild, affable’ and try to figure out that all they might be derived from the same and unique agglutinated proto-word. The same proto-word was probably used by all IE languages. I would say that the relation between bless and bliss was better understood in earlier times (see on the left what Wedgwood rote in his etymological dictionary).

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