Greek in Italy

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Languages of Ancient Italy in the Oxford English Dictionary


I was reading the entry for ‘use’ (v.) on today (here, for those of you with a subscription), and noticed that in the ‘etymology’ section was the observation: ”an Italic origin is indicated by Oscan úittiuf (nominative) use, Paelignian oisa (ablative singular feminine) used.” It turns out that ‘use’ is one of the words which has been updated as part of the new Third Edition of the OED (as of June 2011), and the stuff about Oscan and Paelignian was added then, as can be confirmed by comparing the previous entry, from the 1989 Second Edition, which does not mention them at all.

I did a quick search in the ‘etymology’ sections of OED and found the following numbers of references to languages of Ancient Italy (not including in entries like ‘Oscan-Umbrian’):

Oscan: 28

Umbrian: 31

Paelignian: 4

Etruscan: 24 (although a large number say things like “perhaps of Etruscan origin”, which doesn’t inspire confidence)

Messapian: 1

No hits for Picene, Volscian, Vestinian, Marsian, Marrucinian, Venetic alas, but there’s still a lot of the dictionary to go…

Not all of the references came from updated entries, but most did. In general, the Third Edition entries have a far superior discussion of etymology, but this inclusion of languages of Ancient Italy seems particularly noteworthy – three cheers for the Third Edition!

3 thoughts on “Languages of Ancient Italy in the Oxford English Dictionary

  1. Occasionally people ask me if there are any Oscan words in English. Until recently, the only thing I had was “mefitic”, which is a bit of an odd word anyway. But then recently I found out that “litre” might have some kind of Sabellian origin (from the unit of weight “litra”,which seems to start life in Sicily), and that was a much better example! Sounds like there are many more I need to investigate though…

  2. You could try ‘lupine’, which is a step up from ‘mefitic’, at least, and maybe has slightly more currency since Harry Potter.

    • Well, if we’re counting Latinate words with Sabellic -p/b- reflexes, I’m sure we could even say bovine.

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