Friday 13 May 2016


This is honey.

Honey is a sweet food made by honey bees using nectar from flowers.

The English word honey comes from Middle English hony, honi, which comes from Old English huniġ, which in turn comes from proposed Proto-Germanic *hunagą. The words for honey in all the other Germanic languages as well as in Finish and Middle Welsh come from this root. The last two are probably borrowing from Germanic languages. Where does this root come from is a mystery, considering that pretty much all the other Indoeuropean languages have words for honey which are based on the two phonetically very similar proposed PIE roots: medu and melid.

Words for honey derived from the proposed PIE root medu:

Latvian: mȩdus
Lithuanian: medus
Old Prussian: meddo
Slavic: *mȇdъ
Ossetian: mud, myd
Sanskrit: mádhu
Hindi: madhu
Urdu: madhu
Malay: madu
Telugu: madhuvu
Romani mol, mod, mou
Tocharian B: mīt

The Indo-European word for honey was prehistorically borrowed into Finno-Ugric, compare Finnish and Estonian mesi, Hungarian méz. Also possibly borrowed into Chinese: 蜜 (OC *mit > mì, "honey"), possibly via Tocharian languages.

Words for honey derived from the proposed PIE root mélid:

Albanian: mjaltë
Hittite: militt, malitt
Luwian: mallit
Old Armenian: mełr
Breton: mel
Cornish: mel
Welsh: mêl
Irish: mil
Manx: mill
Scottish Gaelic: mil
Ancient Greek: méli
Latin: mel. You can see the words for honey languages descended from Latin here.
Gothic: miliþ

On top of all of the above honey words we have these words which mean mead or wine. Mead, an alcoholic drink created by fermenting honey with water is one of the oldest if not the oldest alcoholic drinks made by man. Mead predates wine by millenniums and this is why we find that the word for wine in many languages is derived from the root "med(u)" meaning honey which is found in Slavic, Baltic and Sanskrit and Sanskrit derived languages.

Slavic: med / miod , which means both "honey" and "mead"
Baltic: medus "honey", midus "mead"
Sanskrit: madhu - means both honey or sweet. It also means mead and alcohol.
Old Irish: mid - mead
Irish: miodh - mead
Gaulish: medu - mead
Breton: mez - mead
Cornish: medh - mead
Welsh: medd - mead
Ancient Greek: méthu - wine
Avestan: maδu  - wine
Bactrian: molo - wine
Persian: mol - wine
Old Persian: *madu - wine
Middle Persian: may - wine
Persian: mey -wine
Scythian: madu - wine
Sogdian: maδu - wine
Germanic: *meduz - mead. You can see the words for mead in Germanic languages here. How did Germanic languages acquire the word "mead" is a bit of a mystery considering the Germanic words for honey. Maybe this word was introduced through Gothic which borrowed it from Slavic languages during Chernyakhov culture period. Or maybe the word was borrowing from Celtic word for honey "medh", which funnily enough, again have the same root as the Slavic word for honey "med".

There is also an English word meadow. A meadow is a field or pasture; a piece of land covered with wild or cultivated grasses, usually intended to be mown for hay;

According to the etymological dictionary the word "meadow" comes from Old English mædwe "meadow, pasture," originally "land covered in grass which is mown for hay". This is an oblique case of the Old English mæd, Anglian med "meadow, pasture," from Proto-Germanic *medwo (cognates: Old Frisian mede, Dutch made, German Matte "meadow," Old English mæþ "harvest, crop"), from PIE *metwa- "a mown field," from root *me- "mow, cut down grass or grain"

But is it possible that the word meadow is somehow related to the Slavic and Celtic word for honey: med?

This is a meadow. What do you see on the picture below? Lots and lots and lots and lots of wild flowers. Where there are wild flowers, there are bees, collecting nectar to make honey, med. It is basically the meadows that give material for honey, and hence that give honey, produce honey. In Archaic Serbian "gives honey" is "med dava" = "medava" = meadow = the place that give us honey?

Is it possible that the Germanic word for mowing was derived from the word for grassy area and not the other way round? I would suggest that the word for a piece of land covered with grass developed before people invented scythe and started to mow grass...

Back to the Indoeuropean words for honey. Where do they come from? What are they derived from? Well officially the above two Proto-Indo-European roots are not linked. And we don't know what are they derived from.

Now what I would like to propose here is that there are actually no two PIE roots for honey but only one from which both of the above two roots are derived from. I would also like to propose here that this original single rood for all the Indoeuropean words for honey (except for the English and German one that is) is the Proto-Indo-European root "*h₁ed" meaning "to eat". This root is extremely old and have produced the verb "to eat" in all the old Indoeuropean branches:

Sanskrit  अत्ति ‎(atti), अद् ‎(ad) - to eat
Avestan ad - to eat
Latin edō ‎- I eat
Ancient Greek ἔδω ‎(édō) - I eat
Hittite (e-id-mi) - I eat
Old Armenian: ուտեմ ‎(utem) - to eat
Proto-Germanic *etaną (English to eat comes from this root) ‎- to eat
Old Church Slavonic eсти ‎(jasti) - to eat

Now in Serbian we have several different versions of the word for food which is derived from the verb to eat:

(j)edenje, (j)edja, (j)ed, (j)elo, (j)el, (j)estivo, (j)estija

But what does this have to do with the PIE root words for honey "melid" and "medu"?

Honey is made by bees. The bees found in Evroasia belong to the type known as western honey bee. Honey bees use caves, rock cavities and hollow trees as natural nesting sites. Members of other subgenera have exposed aerial combs. The nest is composed of multiple honeycombs, parallel to each other, with a relatively uniform bee space. It usually has a single entrance. Western honey bees prefer nest cavities approximately 45 litres in volume and avoid those smaller than 10 or larger than 100 litres. Western honey bees show several nest-site preferences: the height above ground is usually between 1 metre and 5 metres, entrance positions tend to face downward, South-facing entrances are favored, and nest sites over 300 metres from the parent colony are preferred. Bees usually occupy the nests for several years. Here is a typical entrance to the western honey bee nest built inside a hollow tree.

Now lets for a second put ourselves back into the position of our ancient Paleolithic ancestors. Even if they new about the existence of a bees nest in a tree trunk high above the ground or in a side of a cliff, they would have stayed as far away as possible from it. Why? Have you ever been stung by a bee? How about 100 bees? I have. NOT NICE :) Even if their curiosity would have led our ancestors to try to see what was inside these buzzing holes, they would have soon lost all enthusiasm for further investigation. Bees get very angry when someone starts poking around their nest, and angry bees have no problem in getting rid of nosy humans...Anyone who was bitten by bees, will stay away from bees. And will teach other people that bees are dangerous and that they too should stay away from bees. And people probably stayed as far as possible from bees nests as they could. Until they discovered honey that is. But how did our ancestors discover honey if they stayed away from the bee nests? The answer is bears.

Bees nests, positioned meters over the ground in thick tree trunks, with very narrow entrances and full of angry bees, would have, as I already said, made it quite difficult, if not impossible for our inquisitive ancestors to explore them. But none of the above made much problems to bears. Bears are great tree climbers. They also have very strong sharp claws, with which they can relatively easily widen the bee nest entrance. And they have a very thick skin and fur which protects them from bee stings.

An inquisitive bear would soon discover that bee nests contain lots of tasty larvae and something else, which is very much worth hard work of climbing the tree and scratching at the tree bark in order to enlarge the entrance into the nests, as well as a few (or even a lot) bee stings: honey.

Bears are omnivores like people. They will eat animals, insects and plants including fruits. Some of the wild fruits are deliciously sweet and flavorsome indeed, like wild berries. But honey...Among the wild foods, honey is in a league of its own. There is nothing really that compares to the taste of honey, nothing that comes even close to it. And the first inquisitive bear that tasted it would have become hooked on it straight away. And would have started actively looking for it. And would have taught his cubs how to find it and get it. And soon all the bears in the area and then all the bears in Evroasia would have learned how to find the bees nests, how to get into them, and how to get their paws on the honey. And would have become honey experts.

Now our inquisitive ancestors may not have been very interested in poking bees nests themselves, but being hunter gatherers, they would have seen bears fussing over them, clambering trees, scratching the hive entrance to make it wider and then scraping honeycombs full of larvae and honey and gobbling them up. After the bear would leave, at least one of our inquisitive ancient ancestors would have gone to the bees nest tree to see what was all the hullabaloo about. And there, he, or she would have found bits of honeycomb with traces of honey on it. And would have slowly and gingerly put this sticky sweet smelling stuff into his or her mouth. And.....

"mmmmmmmmm". This is a universally recognized sound which expresses pure physical pleasure. Two main things that trigger the "mmmmmm" reaction are sensual physical contact and food. When it comes to food triggered "mmmmmmm" reaction, there is nothing more "mmmmm" than the sweet food. Now imagine that you were this inquisitive ancestor of ours, who had just tasted his first honey. Until then his or hers choice of sweet food was quite limited. Few sweetish roots and fruit. And then honey. The ultimate prehistoric "mmmmmmmmmmm" food. Compared to other sweet foods available to our prehistoric ancestors, honey was so much more "mmmmmmmmm" that, as I already said, it was actually in the league of its own. Honey is so sweet it is intoxicating. And guess what. Our ancestor, just like the bear, was hooked on it straight away. 

Now what did our inquisitive ancestor do after the initial honey shock? Well he stuffed his face with every single bit that the bear missed. And then he clumbered the tree and stack his hand into the bees nest to get more of this magical sweet "mmmmmmmmmmmm" food. And he probably got stung few times, but what the heck, its honey we are talking about, who cares about few stings....

And then he or she would have gone home to his village and would try to tell his family and kinsmen what he or she has just discovered. And he or she would have tried to find the word which best described this new magical sweet intoxicating food. And he or she would have rubbed his belly and would have smacked his lips and would have smiled and would have probably said something like:

"I found "mmmmmmmmm" food! I found "mmmmmmmmm" food! I found "mmmmmmmmm" food!" 

Because really, there is no better way to describe honey but as "mmmmm" food. 

Now do you remember the Serbian words for food: (j)edenje, (j)edja, (j)ed, (j)elo, (j)el, (j)estivo, all descendants from the PIE root "*h₁ed"? Well I believe that the actual root was "*h₁e" with three variations: "*h₁ed" (jed, jedi, jedja, jedenje in Serbian), "*h₁el" (jel, jelo in Serbian) and "*h₁es" (jes, jesti, jestivo, jestija in Serbian) . 

What happens when we try to say "mmmmmmmmm" food in PIE using the above three derived roots "*h₁ed", "*h₁el" and "*h₁es"? 

"mmmm" + "*h₁ed" (mmmm + jed, jedja, jedenje in Serbian)
"mmmm" + "*h₁el" (mmmm + jel, jelo in Serbian)

And what we get is:

"mmmm" + "*h₁el" (mmmm + jed) - "m(j)ed(u)" - medu
"mmmm" + "*h₁ed" (mmmm + jel) - "m(j)el(id)" -  melid

Basically what we get are the exact two PIE roots for Indoeuropean honey words, basically both meaning "mmmmmm" food, "mmmmmm" eating...

The rest is history. People started actively looking for the "mmmmm" food, mjed, mjel, and what best way to find honey, but to learn from the honey experts: bears. They knew how to find bees nests, and how to get the honey out. And guess what is the Serbian (and all Slavic) word for bear? It is "medved". 

This word has two etymologies:

Real one: medv(u) + ed = honey + eat = honey eater
False (but common) one:  med + ved = honey + knowledge = "he who knows about honey, honey sage"... 

Interesting don't you think? It seems that Slavs are the only ones who in their languages preserved the memory of the time when bears served as honey guides to people of Northern Hemisphere. The role of honey guides was played by honey guide birds and honey badgers in Southern Hemisphere.  

Eventually people started looking for bees nests and raiding them without the help of bears. They used stone tools to hack at the bees nest entrance to widen it. They used gourds, baskets and pots o collect honeycomb. We don't know when this honey madness started, but we have evidence for hunting for honey from at least 8,000 years ago. A cave painting in Valencia, Spain shows two honey-hunters collecting honey and honeycomb from a wild bee nest. The figures are depicted carrying baskets or gourds, and using a ladder or series of ropes to reach the wild nest which is inside of a hollow tree trunk.

Now people were of course attacked by bees during this honey acquiring enterprise. The pesky, buzzing, biting honey makers - bees. 

Eeeee, guess what the word for honey bee is in Serbian (and other Slavic languages)?

Serbian word for bee is "pčela" pronounced pchela. This word comes from the Proto-Slavic - bьčela

The etymology of this word is uncertain. There are two proposed option: 

The first proposed etymology says that the Slavic word for bee comes from bučati ‎(“to make noise, roar”) which produces *bъčela. A bee is, therefore, the one that makes noise. True. But a wasp (osa) also makes noise. A bumble bee (bumbar) makes even more noise. And hornet (stršljen) makes the most noise. And none of them is called the noisy insect. 

The second proposed etymology says that the Slavic word for bee comes from the North-West Proto-Indo-European *bʰi-kʷe- ‎(“bee, stinging insect”), which is an extension of the Indo-European root *bʰi- ‎(“to hit, strike, beat”). This is the same root that the English word "bee" comes from. But again wasp (osa), bumble bee (bumbar), hornet (stršljen), mosquito (komarac), fly (muva), flee (buva) also sting, bite, but they are not called biting insects.

I believe that the etymology of the Slavic word for bee is this:

(mpb)zzzz + el - buzzing + food = the buzzing thing, insect, that makes food. Have a listen to the sound of bees. It is a sound that sounds the most like (mpb)zzzz. And bees are the only insects that make food.

Another word for bee that makes the maker of food is the Greek word for a honey bee: "μέλισσα" (melissa). This word  comes from the word"μέλι" (meli) meaning "honey" and also means the maker, the producer, the giver of mmm food, honey. Let me explain why I believe that this is so.

In Serbian one of the words for sweet is "milo". The word "milo" comes from Proto-Slavic "*milъ", from Proto-Balto-Slavic *meiʔlos, from Proto-Indo-European *meyl. The words descended from this root are found in all Balto Slavic languages with the same meaning "nice, deer, sweet", and in Latin "mītis" ‎meaning "mild, mellow, mature, ripe; sweet, juicy, succulent" and Greek meília (couldn't find this word anywhere, so if anyone knows what this word is please let me know).

I believe that the word "milo" comes from the root mmmmm + jilo = mmmmm + food = honey = sweet. In some dialects of Serbian and Croatian the sound "e" in je, jes(ti), jel(o), jed(ja) becomes "i" (pronounced like ee in English). So we get ji, jis(ti), ji(lo), ji(dja). So the word mmmm jelo = mjelo = honey becomes mjilo = honey = sweet. This eventually becomes milo becuse this is easier to pronounce together. So this word is also descended from the same root as all the words for honey and mead we already discussed. Example of the honey words descended from the "mil" root instead of the "mel" root are Gaelic and Western Asian (Hittite and Luwian) words for honey, which all have root "mil":

Hittite: militt, malitt
Luwian: mallit
Irish: mil
Manx: mill
Scottish Gaelic: mil

Interesting link between Hittites, Irish and Western Balkans...Again.

In Serbia we have lots of names which are based on the root "mil" meaning "sweet: Milan, Milojko, Milosav, Milivoj, Milča, Milenko, Mila, Milica, Milena, Milka, Milosava..All of them basically mean sweet, cute, pretty and would have the same meaning as calling someone honey, sugar, sweetie.  Two most common names from this cluster are Milan (male) and Milica (pronounced Militsa, female). 

Now, as I already said, the Greek word for a honey bee "μέλισσα" (melissa) which comes from "μέλι" (meli) meaning "honey".

However I believe that "μέλισσα" (melissa) was originally melida = meli + da = honey + give, honey + giverr, producer and that development went from M(e)ilida --> M(e)ilitsa (Serbian) - M(e)ilisa...

The proof that this was probably the case is the fact that the word "μέλισσα" (melissa) has another version "μέλιττα" (melita). I believe that this was the original version of the Greek word for bee, which then became melisa through mispronunciation.

That there is a direct link between Serbian and Greek words based on the root words for honey preserved in Serbian, we can see from the Serbian word "melem" meaning "balm, balsam", something that is put on wounds to help them heal. In Serbian there is an expression "Kao melem na ranu" meaning "Perfect solution for a problem" but literally meaning "Like a melem on a wound". 

In Ancient Greek we have words "μελέτη, μελέτα" (melete, meleta) meaning  care, attention and "μέλημα" (melima) -meaning "object of care, beloved object, darling, concern". I believe that all these words come from "μέλι" (meli) meaning "honey". Why? Well the etymology for these Greek words will not tell you this. But the reason is because honey was once used as medicine, given to sick people who were cared for. Honey was even until the discovery of antibiotics also used for treating of wounds, so as a balm, balsam. So the link between the Greek word for honey and the Greek word for care seems to be preserved through Serbian word for balm, balsam...

On the "World wide wounds" page we read:

"Honey is an ancient remedy for the treatment of infected wounds, which has recently been 'rediscovered' by the medical profession, particularly where conventional modern therapeutic agents are failing. There are now many published reports describing the effectiveness of honey in rapidly clearing infection from wounds, with no adverse effects to slow the healing process; there is also some evidence to suggest that honey may actively promote healing. In laboratory studies, it has been shown to have an antimicrobial action against a broad spectrum of bacteria and fungi. However, further research is needed to optimise the effective use of this agent in clinical practice."

That the word for honey is directly derived from the word for food and eating, and that that word is very very old, can be seen from the fact that many words for honey from "Non Indoeuropean" languages also seem to come from the same old root "jed, jel, jes" meaning food, eating. 

In Basque the word for honey is "ezti", "eztia". In Serbian (and in other Slavic languages) this word means "to eat, food" (jesti, jestija in Serbian). 

In Sudanese the word for honey is "madu". Sudan is the place where we find a lot of R1b people, descendants of the Indoeuropean speaking invaders. No wonder that the word for honey is based on the same old "mmmm+ed" root.  

In Tajik: asal, Arabic: aslja, asal, Swahilli: asali all mean honey. Do they come from jes + slad = food + sweet?

In Turkish: bal, Mongolian: bal, Kazakh: bal, Azerbaijani: bal all mean honey. Do they come from mmmm + jel = sweet + food?

And how about this: These are Egyptian hieroglyphs for honey bee and honey:

The word used for both is the same: bjt (or bit). Now is this basically the shorthand of the same construct found in Slavic "pčela": bzz + je (i) + da = buzing + eating + gives (alternatively t - feminine ending in old Egyptian)? How come we find these Indoeuropean roots in Egyptian language? R1b people again i would suspect. 

Apparently this Egyptian word could be related to Latin "apis" ‎(“bee”) for which the etymology is uncertain. The proposed root for apis is from Proto-Indo-European "*a(m)pi" meaning ‎(“stinging insect; bee”). From this same root apparently also get the Proto Germanic root "imbijaz" meaning "bee, bee swarm"....Is it possible that the root here  again is: je + mmmm + bzzz  (or bi) = eat + mmmm + buzzing or stinging = stinging insect that makes yummmmmmmy food?

Is this all just a coincidence? If not, how old are these words? How and when did they develop if we find them in all these Non Indoeuropean languages? Well I obviously don't think that this is all a coincidence. As for the age of these words, I would propose that they come to us from at least Mesolithic or early Neolithic, from the time when people started collecting honey for the first time. The words were probably developed by the then forest dwellers of the Balkans and Western Asia possibly during the last glacial maximum. The same population then preserved these words until today, passing them on to everyone they came in contact with. Was this I2a or R1 population? Not sure, but definitely was one of these two because this would explain the existence of all these ancient roots in Slavic and particularly South Slavic languages. I believe that here we have a true linguistic fossil. Again :)

So this is it. What do you think? Interesting? I think so. But believe or not it gets even better. In my next post I will discuss the link between the bees and the development of the first human civilizations which organizationally strangely resemble beehives. And who venerated the Mother Earth in her Goddess of love incarnation, Venus, as the bee goddess....

Until then, have fun...


  1. Very interesting article.

    I've used honey for medicinal purposes for a long time (because of this, I seldom consume it when I'm not sick). I do believe it to be beneficial in helping me get over illnesses like the common cold. Also, honey is a useful cosmetic agent. I've seen recipes for skin moisturizers and hair conditioners which utilize honey as an ingredient (I've never tried these, so I can't attest to their effectiveness, but your segment describing the multiple uses of honey brought that to mind)

  2. mmmmmmm now I have to go out and buy some local honey...

  3. In Japanese honey is: Hachi Mitsu.
    Hatchi = bee. Mitsu = sugar or sweet.
    I suspect raiding bees for honey began much earlier than you suggest. Western bees also live in Africa, and are extremely defensive compared to European bees. Why so much more aggressive? I think because humans hunted them for many millenia.
    I recently began keeping bees. Thanks for a fun read.

  4. madhuni (Dravidian, India) honey
    honai (Yali, Papua) conical men's lodge

    honey torn/thorny/horn/cone stinger

  5. Bal in Persian honey, from there to other languages you mentioned or vice-versa.