25 Jan 2012

A resting place

Recently I've been investigating the Etruscan word hupni. Looking at the word, I had assumed a native formation in -ni which normally seems to mark persons elsewhere. I shrugged off the slightly awkward use of -ni, open to the possibility that the suffix might have a broader usage than I thought. Through this analysis, one must assume a root *hup-. In turn, with the apparent meaning of the full word being that of an 'ossuary chamber', I'd surmised that the underlying root might then mean, perhaps, 'bones'. Admittedly tentative but this is how I do things.

I dare to explore until I find paradoxes. If we don't dare to explore the consequences of a promising idea, our theory will become stagnant. Yet if we don't keep our theories in check by distinguishing between fact and hypothesis and by carefully prioritizing the relative probabilities of each proposal, we lose track and our theory goes to mush. (This is why I always mark anything I propose with an asterisk in my lexical database for the sake of clarity, for me and for others.) Sometimes, all you're able to do, given limited information, is to try out things and hope new information comes along. Sometimes this new information arrives in the form of a paradox or a better proposal than the one we have.

At last I stumbled across a comparison between hupni and Greek ὕπνος (húpnos) 'slumber', which I suppose implies a derivative in that language of *ὑπνις (*hupnis) 'resting place'. At that I realized that this very well is likelier than the view I held as my default answer. I feel compelled to abandon the root I tentatively put down now since this etymology is cleaner than assuming a root *hup- which up to now hung in mid-air, both in terms of its exact meaning and its utterly untraceable history, and it also cures the problem of the seeming inappropriate use of the suffix -ni. Another exciting contradiction to push me towards greater accuracy. Adaptation is far more exhilarating than idées fixes.


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