Friday 26 September 2014

Warmth - Fire - Sun

I would like to present here an amazing word cluster which I have found in Serbian and Irish. The word cluster is related to heat (warmth), the most basic sources of heat and the most basic uses of heat. The fact that this word cluster relates to such basic terms, suggests that it originated very early, maybe even in Neolithic and maybe even in Paleolithic time. Apart from Serbian and Irish, this word cluster is found in part in other "Slavic" languages and in traces in other "Celtic" languages. I would really appreciate any additional information regarding the existence of the words from this word cluster in other languages. 

Heat is extremely important for sustaining life. Without heat there is no life. But the amount of heat has to be just right. Too little heat and the water in our bodies freezes, the chemical processes in our bodies stop and we freeze and die. Too much heat and the water in our bodes evaporates, the chemical processes in our bodies go our of control and we burn and die. The main source of heat in our solar system is the Sun. The reason why there is no life on the planets which are closer to the Sun than Earth is that the amount of heat that reaches them from the sun is too big. On those planets the Sun in the sky is a "blazing scorching ball of fire". The reason why there is no life on the planets which are further from the Sun than Earth is that the amount of heat that reaches them from the sun is too small. On those planets the Sun in the sky is at best a "cold white disc" and at worst a "cold white speck". Luckily the Earth is at the "just right" distance from the Sun so that the amount of heat that we get from the Sun is "just right" to sustain life. On Earth the Sun in the sky is "that warm thing which heats us up".

In Serbian we have these words and expressions related to the Sun and and heat: 

grejati, grijati - to heat
greje, grije - it heats, it warms.
greje nas, grije nas, greje ni, grije ni - heats us, warms us
sunce grane - sun appears, dawns, starts warming
sunce greje, grije - sun heats, sun warms
sunce sine - sun starts shining
sunce sije, sija - sun shines
grejan, grijan - heated, warm

In Irish, the Sun, the main source of heat is called "grian", which in Serbian literally means heated, warm. The sun, "grian", is "that warm thing in the sky", the source of heat which "grije nas" warms us.

Official etymology for the Irish word grian states that the word comes from  Old Irish grían, from Proto-Indo-European *ghreinā, from Proto-Indo-European *gher- (“to shine, glow; grey”)" which of course has nothing to do with burning and heating.  

This makes absolutely no sense. Two major sources of light on earth are the sun and fire, both generating light through burning and producing heat at the same time. Can someone please explain to me how can the name for the Sun, which is yellow - orange, hot, bright, alive (like burning fire), and which gives off both heat and light (like burning fire), be logically derived from the same root used for color grey, which is cold, dead? Gray ash is what is left after fire dies and there is no more light and heat. Does anyone really think that ancient people would do something like that? Even natural shiny grey objects, like moon, stars are linked with cold, night and darkness, not heat, day and light. And all man made grey shiny objects like metal and mirror reflect light, they don't generate it. Plus all the man made shining grey things are much younger than the word for sun. This why I don't agree with the official etymology for the word "grian" and why I think the word "grian" meaning sun, comes from "grije" meaning heats and ultimately from gar, gor meaning fire, burning.

Now someone pointed to me that the above official etymology has changed. Now we read: 

From Proto-Celtic *grēnā. Further etymology uncertain. Possibly from Proto-Indo-European *gʷʰer- (“to be warm, hot”).

Matasović reconstructs Proto-Celtic *gʷrensnā, from Proto-Indo-European *gʷʰrenso- (“warm”) (whence Sanskrit घ्रंस (ghraṃsa, “heat of the sun”) and Proto-Celtic *gʷrensos, whence Middle Welsh gwres (“heat (of the sun, fire)”), compare also Proto-Celtic *gʷrīns, whence derived *gʷrīnsā > grís (“heat (of the sun), fire, embers”).

Now this is more like it. But interestingly this PIE root can be derived from Slavic "grije" (heats) which is not even mentioned as a cognate :) Why?

But the heat that reaches the Earth from the Sun is not always and everywhere the same. Depending on the longitude and altitude, the time of the year and time of the day, the heat given off by the sun can vary dramatically. As a consequence the outside temperature rises and falls. If the outside temperature becomes too high or too low, this can severely affect the biochemical processes in our bodies. This is why the living beings had to develop extremely complex heating and cooling systems and processes in order to regulate their body temperature in a constantly changing temperature of their living environment. 

Like most of the other higher animals, humans developed ability to produce their own heat from food and to warm their own bodies. But producing heat is extremely energy consuming. The colder it gets, the more heat needs to be produced to heat the body up and more food needs to be consumed to sustain this heat production. The problem is that the colder it gets, the less food there is to be eaten. This makes survival in the cold climate very difficult and this is why originally most people lived in warm and temperate areas where it never gets too cold.  

But even in warm and temperate areas it sometimes gets cold. In a cold environment, most of the heat produced and distributed in the body leaks out into the surrounding through the body surface. Animals developed thick furs which insulate them from the environment and prevent the leaking of the body heat out through the body surface. Animals also cuddle, huddle, hug, pile up, get close together, lie on top of each other, to minimize the total surface through which the heat can escape and to maximize the usage of the body heat of the whole group.

People also developed body hairs, but they were nowhere near as good as animal furs in insulating the body from the cold. But luckily humans also developed large powerful brains which allowed them to figure out many different ways to wrap, cover their bodies and prevent the body heat from leaking into the environment. First people also cuddled, huddles and hugged, piled up together and on top of each other. Then they realized that they can also pile dried leaves, grass, moss, branches on top of themselves to create insulating shelters. Eventually humans invented sharp and pointy tools with which they killed fury animals and skinned them. To skin the animal you scrape its skin off using a sharp blade. In Serbian the verb to scrape, scratch is "krz", the word "krzano" means scraped, and the word for fur is "krzno", which literally means what you scrape off the animal. Once the fur is scraped off the animal body and once it is cleaned and tanned to prevent rotting, the fur can be wrapped around the body to stop the body heat from leaking into the cold environment.

Wrapping your body with animal fur as a way of keeping warm is so efficient that it continued to be used almost unchanged until today.

The national library of Aurstralia has these great images of Aboriginal people wearing animal skins to keep themselves warm in the 19th century. 

And here is a picture of a Romanian shepherd today, wearing animal fur cloak (kabanica) and fur hat (šubara). 

People then developed ways to harness wool and other plant and animal fibers and produce cloths and clothes to complement animal skins as insulators, but the idea was still the same: wrap yourself tight with insulating materials to prevent body heat from leaking out. Cover yourself with insulating materials. Get close together, push together, huddle, cuddle, hug, pile up to minimize the group body surface and maximize the usage of the body heat of the whole group.

Irish word "gar" means near, nearness, proximity, get close. In Scots Gaelic the same word "gar" means warm. In Irish the word "gor" means warmth. In Breton the same word "gor" means burning and in Welsh the word "gwrês" means heat and "*gorô" means I warm. The word "gar" is a root of the word "garadh" which means warm, from people huddling close together for warmth. In Scots Gaelic the word "gar" also means us. Us, close together, huddling for warmth...

In Serbian, Czeck and Polish we have all these words which relate to closeness and movement from and to closeness, which seem to all come from the same root:

g(a)r, g(u)r = put close to, next to, press, push, move closer, move towards. 

Serbian: gariti, gurati - push

Serbian: grnuti, grtati, grliti - gather, bring close together, hug

Polish: garnąć, gartąć - gather, bring close together, rake, cuddle, grab, hug

Serbian: ogrnuti, ogrtati - wrap around. ogrtač - robe, cape
Polish: ogarnąć - embrace, encompass. encircle, invade, wrap around, cloth
Czech:  ohrnout - Wrap, roll
From o + gar + nj + ti = around + put next to + it + you

Serbian: zagrnuti, zgrtati - cover it, wrap it. 
Czech: zahrnout - cover, cover with earth, fill, comprise , embrace, include, smother

From za + gar + nj + ti = on, after + put next to + it + you

Serbian: nagrnuti - push press through. 
Czech: nahrnout - pile up , heap up , mound

From na + gar + nj + ti = on + put next to, press against, push + it + you =

Serbian: odgrnuti, odgurnuti - uncover, push away, clear (away)
Czech: odhrnout - remove, plow off/away, open, draw aside, clear (away)

From od + gar, gur + nj + ti = from + close to, next to, press, push, move + it + you

Czech: vyhrnout - push away, rake out, bulldoze away, roll up 

I am wandering if the root for the above words was "gar" which lost "a" in Serbian and Czech or "gr" which got "a" added in Polish and Irish? The reason why I believe that the original root was "gr" are these words in Sanskrit: 

गृह्णाति (gṛhṇāti) - take, hold,grasp, understand, take back, claim, pick, approve, put on, lay the hand on, grapple, follow, take possession of, receive into the mind, captivate, observe, abstract, imprison, undertake
गृभ्णाति (gṛbhṇāti) - obtain, admit, undergo, include, take away, consider as, pluck, begin, mention, take on one's self, gain over, recognise, choose, overpower, apprehend, understand, keep, take back, draw water, put on 
रभ् (rabh) - clasp, embrace, desire vehemently, take hold of, grasp, wish to embrace, take hold of, keep fast, be grasped or clasped, firmly grip or grasp, seize, lay hold on

The first word is the equivalent of the Serbian word grnuti. The second is the equivalent of the Serbian word grabiti, to grab. The third word is the equivalent of the Serbian word rabiti, to use. Is it possible it comes from g(a)r + rab = bring close, get close, move towards + take, use? Or maybe from ga + rab = him, it + use, take?

Also we have the word "grupa" meaning group. In Serbian we have words hrpa, vrpa, rpa all meaning pile. Is it possible that the word grupa comes from g(a)r + rpa = pul, push close together, get close together, be close + pile? Even the official etymology which you can find in the above link says that the word relates to the meaning pile, so it is quite possible that I could be right.

So originally people stayed warm by exposing themselves to the sun or by huddling together or wrapping themselves with insulating materials like furs and clothes. Then later they started using fire. They were still wrapping themselves with clothes and animal furs, and they will still huddling and cuddling together, but now they were doing this while sitting around the fire.

And in Serbian and Irish we find that the words related to fire, burning, heating using fire have the same root found in the words for sun, heat and getting close together, root gr (gar, gor, gur). 

Serbian word comes from Proto Slavic гореть (goreti) - burn

From Proto-Slavic *gorḗti to burn.
Church-Slavonic: горѣти, горю (gorti) - to burn
Russian: гореть (goret) - to burn
Ukrainian: горiти (goriti) - to burn
Bulgarian: горя́ (gorja) - to burn
Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian: го̀рети (goreti) - to burn
Slovenian: goreti - to burn
Czech: hořet - to burn
Slovakian: horieť - to burn
Polish: gorący - to burn
Lusatian: horcy, *horucy - to burn


Lithuanian: gariù, garė́ti - burn, erupt, flaire with anger (goreti - burn in Serbian); išgarė́ti - evaporate (izgoreti - burn out in Serbian); gãras - steam (gori - burns in Serbian)
Armenian: ջերմ (jerm) - warm (gorim - I am burning in Serbian)
Prussian: gorme - heat (gorim - I am burning in Serbian) 
Albanian: zjarm - heat (s gorim - with I am burning in Serbian)

Sanskrit: ghRNoti, gharNoti, gharNute - burn, shine (goreti - burn in Serbian)
Sanskrit: gharma - warmth; 
Hindi: garam - warm; 

Avestan: garema - warm; 
Persian: garm - warm, hot (gorim - I am burning in Serbian)

Old Armenian: ǰerm - warm

We also find these fire related "gr" words in other "Celtic" languages. I would be grateful for any updates on this part of the word cluster from Breton and Welsh speakers.

Scots Gaelic: gar - warm
Breton: gor - burning
Welsh: gwrês - heat and "*gorô" means I warm

And then there are the Irish and the Serbian languages:


goraim -, I heat, warm, burn; bask; hatch.
gorim - warm

Serbian (Slavic):

gori - burns; goreti = gori ti = it burns, to burn

gorim - I am burning

What is interesting is that in Serbian the word "gori" means burns but also "up, upwards". 

gor, gore, gori - up, upwards

The fire goes up and the water falls down. The things go up in flame. Serbs used to burn their dead so that they can get to heaven, which is up in the sky, quicker, carried on the flames. What "gor" (burns) goes "gor" (up). Did the verb to burn come from the word for up, going up?


gor - warmth
garadh - warm
goradh -  act of burning; blushing; heat; déan do ghoradh, take a shin heat, incubation, keeping warm
garamhail - useful, profitable, neighborly; warm, snug, friendly;
gorai - place where chicks come out of eggs
gríos - embers, hot ashes; heat; fire; pimples, blotches, spots or rash on the skin;
gríosach - aighe, pl. -acha, f., fire, burning embers; ashes containing small coals of fire; glowing
griosagh - fire


gori - burns
grejan, grijan - heated, warm

gorionik - burner, torch
gorešnjak - big heat, hot weather
gorotina - what burns, burned place
gariti - to burn, to rush, to go fast
nagariti - put branches into the fire, feed the fire
garište - place where the fire used to burn
zgarište - something burned down
zgoreljak - something burned


gris (old Irish) - fire
grios(c) - broil, grill
gríscín - a broiled piece of meat; a piece of meat suitable for broiling; the
word occurs also in a place name, Gleann Ghríscín, a townland in East Kerry, but whether
precisely in this sense is uncertain.


grejan, grijan - cooked


garr - wooden pulp
gairg, -e, -eacha, f., a cormorant, a diver, black bird.
garrail - dirty


gar - hot ashes, soot
garav, garast, gares - covered in soot, black, dirty
garavilo - black color, paint
gara, garča, garka - names for black, dark animals
garvan - raven
garagan - black person, gypsy

Sanskrit: aGgara - charcoal


garach, -aighe, id.garg - fierce, rough, cruel; bitter, acrid.
gorach - heat up, foolish, fickle; inflamed, heated.
gargaigh - make harsh, bitter; exacerbate, intensify (heat anger)
gairgeach - harsh, gruff, surly, irritable
goirt - bitter, sour, salt; sad, painful (also guirt).
gríosaim - I urge, encourage, abet, incite, provoke, exasperate.
gríosadh - act of burning, stimulating, urging; encouragement, excitement (also gríosughadh).
grís-neimh - burning venom, violence.


gorak, gorni, gorčaiv, gorčiv, grenkav, grk - bitter, acidic
ogorčen - angry
garaknuti, garnuti - to encourage, to provoke, to excite, to inflame, to make fire bigger
žgaravica, gorušica - stomach acid which causes burning sensation, reflux


garán - underwood, thicket
garrán - grove
crann - tree (probably originally gran)


gora - forest, mountain (the thing which is tall, high and it burns)
grana, granjka - branch (of a tree), the things that burn
granje - branches, the things that burn
granjes - branched, with many branches
granjak - thicket, bushes
grm - bush, undergrowth
grmes - branched, with many branches
ugarak, ugarci - smoldering branches
ogrev - firewood

Old Norse: grein - branch; old Prussian: Garrin, garrjan - tree

I love this sentence in Irish: garrán (grove) is the place where we find lots of crann, originally probably gran (trees). Trees are made from garr. When crann (tree) is put into griosagh (fire) it gives us gorim (heat) and turns to grios (hot ashes) which you can use to grios(c) (cook).

I don't know about the rest of the Indoeuropeans, but the Irish (Celts) and the Serbians (Slavs) seem to have spent a lot of time together huddled around fires talking about warmth to develop this kind of word cluster....

I have left my favorite words from this cluster for the end of this post. 

Slash-and-burn is an agricultural technique that involves the cutting and burning of plants in forests or woodlands to create fields. It is subsistence agriculture that typically uses little technology. It is typically key in shifting cultivation agriculture, and in transhumance livestock herding.

During the Neolithic Revolution, which included agricultural advancements, groups of hunter-gatherers domesticated various plants and animals, permitting them to settle down and practice agriculture, which provides more nutrition per hectare than hunting and gathering. Due to this decrease in food from hunting, as human populations increased, agriculture became more important. Some groups could easily plant their crops in open fields along river valleys, but others had forests blocking their farming land.

In this context, humans used slash-and-burn agriculture to clear more land to make it suitable for plants and animals. Thus, since Neolithic times, slash-and-burn techniques have been widely used for converting forests into crop fields and pasture. Fire was used before the Neolithic as well, and by hunter-gatherers up to present times. Clearings created by fire were made for many reasons, such as to draw game animals and to promote certain kinds of edible plants such as berries.

So in order to clear land for agriculture you burn the forest. This clears the land of trees but is also fertilizes the soil. This burned patch of land becomes a field where you either plant crops or you graze cattle when the grass grows on it. In the south Serbian dialect we have a set of words which mean both the burned down forest and the field, meadow. 

garine, garinje, ogorevina - place where forest burned down
garina, garinka, garinje, ogorevina - meadow, field, clearing created when forest burned down.

What is interesting, is that we find the same words in Irish. But after seeing all the other words from this cluster that is quite to be expected:

garrai - field, garden (from gar + e = burned + is)
gort - field (from gor + to = burned + that, place).
goirtín - a little field; a small field of corn

It is quite possible that these words were the first words used for field and they could have survived together with the rest of this amazing word cluster since the neolithic time. What does this tell us about the link between the Irish ("Celtic") and the Serbian ("Slavic") languages? Should we reexamine this diagram?


  1. Hi Serbian, the term has reflexes in a number of IE words as a word for heating, warmth, cooking, etc., its not just the Celtic and Slavic branches and there is a natural semantic range which you will also find in the terms warm, warmth in modern English for example. As far as I know Irish is unique in using this term as a name for the sun (although there is no mystery in the fact that the sun provides warmth), with the more commonly shared term only being used for eye. It is a mistake though to think that garraí/gort/goirtín are related as these are derived from another common IE term to indicate a bounded or enclosed space and not a description of slash-and-burn derived from the term warm.

    1. Sorry for not replying earlier, I missed this comment completely.

      It is true that some of these words do exist in other languages but the concentration of these words in South Slavic and Irish languages is so much bigger than in any other language that we have to conclude that this is a result of a long term cultural relationship. Particularly when we look at all the other word clusters that are also most common in South Slavic and Irish, and which you can find in my other posts. The words for heat, fire, branch, and fence all come from the same root g(ao)r. This is because grana (branches, trees) are burned to get fire, heat but are also used to make spear to make a guard from a man (a spear man, or a club man), and to make stakes to fence and protect things which turns them into gardens...Old Celtic word for spear was ga and old germanic word for spear was gar....So garraí/gort/goirtín could be both from "gori" (burning) and from ga ard (stakes high = fence)

      I think that the problem is that people don't look at the world in the way our ancestors would have seen it, and this is why they don't see these things which seem obvious to me...

      Or maybe i just need glasses...

  2. Hey,
    Interesting analysis. I'm wondering where you found the photo of folks sitting around the fire warming their hands. I'd like to get permission to use it. Thanks, linda

    1. Hi Linda. It has been a long time. I can't remember.