18 Dec 2010
I was messaged the other day about an interesting word with a mystery etymology. In Greek, there is ἴσχιον or ἰσχίον 'hip, hip-joint, haunches' which may be compared with the Hittite s-stem iskis- 'back'. This pair of comparanda seems to be where most inquiry stops however.
The OED mentions that this Greek word is "probably from iskhi 'loin,' of unknown origin" yet I can't find this word in Perseus online. Perhaps the editor rather meant an underlying root iskhi-, as in the word ἰσχιάζω 'move the hips', but there's no mention of the Hittite term. Many like Anna Prins (Hittite neuter singular - neuter plural: Some evidence for a connection , p.218) have however acknowledged the Hittite link that establishes that this word at the very least straddled a Greco-Anatolian region, even if its exact source is unknown. Predictably forced attempts have been made by some IEists to explain this away through a hypothetical s-stem *h₁isgʰís-. This is unlikely to be true since the zerograded accented syllable dates it to Late IE at best and the word's meaning and derivation appears obscure (not to mention the severely restricted attestation of the word).
Exploring a possible Proto-Aegean (PAeg) term, we might note that the Greek evidence points to a specifically voiceless, aspirate velar stop. Aegean languages are notable for their lack of voiced stops and use of aspiration contrast in its place. Thus PAeg *iskʰis(a) 'lower back, hips, loin' might explain both although I must admit that the shape of the word seems as odd for this language just as *h₁isgʰís- does for PIE. Maybe there's a third possibility in all this that I'm not considering.
Of course I'm exploring conjectures here but it's always worth pondering alternative ideas to either illuminate further possibilities or to fully expose the absurdity of the path of thought. So far, the word for 'back' isn't known in Etruscan nor do I have the foggiest clue what it might have been, but there does seem to be an Etruscan derivational suffix -is. I'll keep my eye out for further info on this term, of course.