5 Oct 2009
Authors Liddell & Scott in A Greek-English Lexicon, first published in 1819, claimed that Greek tophiōn (τοφιών) means 'tufa quarry', attested in Tab.Heracl.1.137, then further suggested that it be traced to Latin tōfus 'tufa' which in turn was stated to probably come from an Italic dialect. However, the exact dialect remains unspecified and it's unclear why the source must be an Indo-European language, let alone precisely an Italic one.
It's often claimed that tufa, an Italian borrowing inherited from Latin tōfus, is originally from Greek tóphos (τόφος). Yet *tophos is apparently unattested and theorized on tophiōn which leads us to a reminder that conscientious authors must give proper courtesy to their readers by meticulously placing asterisks before any conjectural constructs to make clear distinction between fact and theory. It's possible that the spelling variant tōphus, alongside the other form tōfus, was introduced into Latin through hypercorrection and folk etymology with an imagined Greek source.
At this point it should be known that Etruscan tupi is attested in the Tarquinian Tomb of Orcus (TLE 89) in the phrase Tupi Sispeś next to an image of a man carrying a boulder. It's no stretch of the imagination to read it as 'Rock (Tupi) of Sisyphos (Sis(u)pe-ś)' because of its obvious connection to the Greek myth of a sinner who in death was sentenced by the gods to Tartarus (the lower underworld) and doomed to push a monumental boulder up a mountain forever. Sadly, despite all the academic accolades of co-authors Etruscanist Larissa Bonfante and British Museum Head of Italian Collections Judith Swaddling, all the two experts can cook up in their 2006 book Etruscan Myths is a less-than-accurate translation, 'the *crime (or punishment)* of Sisyphos', which simply overlooks the above facts and which thereby frustratingly obscures a source for these Latin and Greek words whose origins are otherwise unknown.
As I've remarked before on my blog, Etruscan p consistently shows lenition to a bilabial fricative /ɸ/ whenever it neighbours the high rounded back vowel u. Surely this phonological quirk is from whence the fricative ef and the aspirate stop phi of the respective Latin and Greek reflexes owe their origins. So it looks like we have a simple solution here. Alas, much like Sisyphos, I suppose we linguistic-obsessed souls are doomed to eternally strive for the heights of etymology with a boulder of unknowns strapped to our back. Ah, but what a fun and glorious torment life's mysteries are!
 Perseus Digital Library, excerpted from Liddell/Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (1940), 9th edition: Greek tophiōn (τοφιών) (see link).
 Skinner, The origin of medical terms (1961), 2nd edition, p.406 (see link): "Latin - tophus or tofus, from the Greek τόφος, a loose, porous, kind of stone (Hebrew, toph)." Note that Skinner mistakes Hebrew toph (תֹּף) as 'stone' instead of 'tambourine, drum'. The English term toph stone is rather from French tuf, again of Latin origin like Italian tufo/tufa, as properly explained a hundred years earlier in Arthur, Treatise on Architecture, Including the Arts of Construction, Building, Stone-Masonry, Arch, Carpentry, Roof, Joinery, and Strength of Materials (1867), p.123 (see link); Haubrich, Medical meanings: a glossary of word origins (2002), 2nd edition, p.242 (see link): "tophus is a Latinized version of the Greek tophos, 'a porous volcanic stone'".
 Valpy, The Etymology of the words of the Greek language in alphabetical order, with the omissions generally of plants and sometimes of the more uncommon animals (1860), p.171 (see link).
 Diab, Lexicon of orthopaedic etymology (1999), p.353 (see link): "NB: the spelling tophus perhaps was introduced into Latin as the more learned form, as though it were of Greek origin."
 Bonfante/Swaddling, Etruscan myths (2006), p.32 (see link).