2 May 2010
I don't mean to be lewd, although it's an irresistible temptation of sinful pleasure, but it was Mallory and Adams in Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture (1997) that wrote that *kápro- 'goat', from whence Latin caper, is built on the word for 'penis', *kápṛ. This is an old tired line mentioned too by Julius Pokorny. Seemingly the endowment of goats left quite a large impression on the ancient world. Or is it only a post-Freud obsession? Greek assigns a different quadriped to its allegedly related word κάπρος, 'wild boar'. The only perceivable similarities between a goat and a boar are their hooves and general mammalian air but several scholars want us to believe that the majormost commonality is their respective external organs. How might we touch upon this odd penchant to name animals based on reproductive parts of the body and how might we avoid possible blindness in doing so?
The Ancient Greeks were conscious of the enticing difference in meaning between their word and the similar one in Italy. Hesychius glossed the word κάπρα describing it as 'goat' and he assigned it to the "Tyrrhenian" language (ie. Etruscan). Surely he was alluding to Latin caper and made a mistake in judgement, perhaps based in turn on his own erroneous sources. Or was it really a mistake? Maybe we have it all wrong. Maybe this is another case of mistaken identity and Indo-European bias in the field of etymology. Maybe this is really an Etruscan word that was exported to surrounding IE languages of Western Europe and just maybe there is no such stem *kapro- or penis-based animal terms here at all.
As with so many other dubious roots slopped into Mallory & Adams' EIEC, this one begs to be investigated more closely. For starters, they find it difficult to explain the Celtic reflexes that curiously would point to an Indo-European *g- instead of *k- and in order to protect their reconstruction, they point to possible contamination with a similar PIE animal root. However, if we follow instead Hesychius' testimony, the irregular Celtic reflexes can be perfectly explained through borrowing from the implied Etruscan etymon *capra with its unaspirated [k-]. To the foreign Celtic ear, it could very well sound more like their [g-] than their [kʰ-] did since their plosive contrast was one primarily of voice, not of aspiration as among the Etruscans.
This would really make sense and go with Hesychius' testimony but for one thing, the inclusion of Iranian data like Modern Persian kahra- 'kid', Auramani kawrā 'sheep', Saka Khotanese kaura-, kám̥ra- 'sheep' which has been attributed to a Proto-Iranian reconstruction, *kafra-. Note a complete lack of Indic reflexes situated anywhere to the east. Does this Iranian evidence, much of which is obscure, honestly give us reason to reconstruct a PIE root? Has it been shown that these words are not just borrowings? I'll have to examine this more later and try to solve my own questions. This doesn't seem to be a simple affair.
 Mallory/Adams, Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture (1997), p.229: *kápros 'he-goat (male Capra hircus)' (see link).