Monday 6 February 2017

The one who stayed

"Svakog gosta tri dana dosta" (You will have enough of any guest after three days), Serbian proverb and one of my late grandmother's favorite sayings. We never stayed longer than 3 days in her house and she never stayed longer than 3 days in ours...

An old inn, hostel

Many years ago I lived in Greece for a year. I used to speak some Greek and one of my favorite words was the Greek word for house "σπίτι" (spiti). It always sounded funny to me. Because of spit, spitting. Yes I am that juvenile. 

But recently I was reminded of this word and suddenly it wasn't funny any more, because this time the first association that I got was not English "spitting", but Serbian "spiti" meaning to sleep...So I thought: what is a house? A house is a place where you can stay, sleep and eat "in", protected from the elements. 

But Serbian "spiti" - "to sleep" couldn't be the etymology of the Greek word "σπίτι" (spiti) - "house"...Could it?

So I decided to look at the official etymology of this Greek word. What I found is very interesting indeed...

The Greek word "σπίτι" (spiti) is said to come from Byzantine Greek "σπίτιν" ‎(spítin), from Koine Greek "ὁσπίτιον" ‎(hospítion), from Latin "hospitium" ‎meaning "lodgings, guest chamber".

Now Lating "hospitium" means a place of entertainment for strangers; lodgings, inn, guest-chamber, poorhouse. It is said to come from "hospes" meaning guest, visitor, stranger, foreigner but also host to guests, visitors, strangers, foreigners.

The word "hospes" is then said to derive from hypothetical Proto-Italic word "*hostipotis", an old compound of "hostis" and the root of "potis". The only direct Indo-European cognate of this non existent, proposed Proto-Italic word is common Slavic "*gospodь" ‎meaning lord, master. From this we have proposed, non existent "supposed" PIE reconstruction as "*gʰost(i)potis", a compound of PIE roots "*gʰóstis" and "*pótis".

The PIE root "*gʰóstis" means stranger. The descendants are

Germanic: *gastiz meaning stranger, guest, enemy
Slavic: *gostь meaning guest
Italic: *hostis meaning stranger, guest. What is interesting is that the only descendant of this Proposed Italic root is Latin word "hostis" which means an enemy of the state, a stranger...

Here is where it gets interesting. 

The PIE root "*gʰóstis" is said to "possibly" come from the PIE root "*gʰes-" ‎meaning to eat. So we don't know what the actual root is. The reason why the "possible" root is said to be "*gʰes-" meaning to eat, is probably because when you have guests you give them food??? And here is a proposed "possible" cognate: Sanskrit घसति ‎(ghasati) meaning to eat, to devour.

But how does this relate to the Latin meaning of the word which is "an enemy of the state, a stranger"? You are not going to be feeding the enemy?

Well here is another possible etymology which I think will fit much better:

In Slavic languages we have a word "stan" which means "stop, stay, remain, home of, place where one stays, camp, country...". The word comes from common PIE root "*steh₂-" which officially means "to stand" but I would also add "to stay, to remain".

No in Serbian we have the word "ostati" meaning "to stay, to stay behind". The word "osta" means "stayed, stayed behind". The expression "on osta" means "he stayed, he stayed behind" and the expression "ko osta" means "(he) who stayed, (he) who stayed behind". The  old word for "he who" is ga, go, gu which is still used in South of Serbia. That would make "go osta" = gosta = gost = guest...

And here are some other Sanskrit cognates which fit this etymology:

स्थिति (sthiti) stay
आस्था (AsthA) stay

कोष्ठ (koSTha) - room
गोष्ठा (goSThA) - place where cows are kept, cowshed, stable, pen, refuge. 

Both from ko, go + osta = that which + stay

So it is very much possible that the PIE root "*gʰóstis" comes from "osta" meaning "stay".

Now have a look at the meanings of all the words that stem from the proposed PIE root "*gʰóstis": stranger, guest, enemy. Can we derive these meanings from the word "osta"?

Guest is someone, a stranger, not one of us, not one who has a house in our village, who came to visit and stayed: "k(g)o osta". At the time when these words were developed the only people who came from the outside of the community were strangers and if they stayed they were the strangers who stayed. As guests.

If some stranger comes to the village and needs to stay the night you need a place for him to stay in. The place where people stay when they are in a foreign village is a hotel or a hostel. The English word "hotel" is a borrowing from French "hôtel" which is a version of "ho(s)tel" which has lost it's "s". The English word "hostel" is then said to come from middle English, from Old English reinforced by Old French (h)ostel (also found as osteaus, osteax, ostiaus, ostiax), which means "shelter, place to stay". This word is then said to come from Late Latin "hospitale" meaning "hospice", from Classical Latin "hospitalis" ‎meaning "hospitable" and we are back at "hospes" meaning guest, visitor, stranger, foreigner but also host to guests, visitors, strangers, foreigners.

Now if "osta" means "to stay, stay behind" then ostel, osteaus, osteax, ostiaus, ostiax can all be derived from the same root to mean "the place where you can stay, stay behind", which is the meaning of hostel, hotel, inn. Literally the place where foreigners can stay in...

In Irish the word for hotel is "ostan". If we look at the Irish dictionary we find these words based on the root "osta" meaning to stay:

osta, g. id., pl. iostaidhe, m., an apartment, place, habitation, dining room, an inn.
iostán, -áin, pl. id., m., a cottage, a hut, dim. of iosta.
iostas, -ais, pl. id., m., an entertainment, a lodging, accommodation, housing, quartering (pronunciation can be found here)
ósta, g. id., m., hospitality, entertainment; a lodging, an inn; teach ósta, an inn.
óstaidheacht, -a, f., lodging, entertainment.
óstánach, -aigh pl. id., m., an innkeeper (O'N.).
óstas, -ais, m., inn-keeping, entertainment.
óstóir, -óra, -óiridhe, m., a host, an inn-keeper.
óstóireacht. -a, f., hostelry.

This root exists in the Early Irish and the meaning is the place where strangers, guests can stay, like a house, a hut, a lodging, an inn. Sure you can eat in a house, in a hut, in a lodging, in an inn, but the main thing that strangers, guests can do there is "to stay inn"...

Sometimes the strangers who stay are not friendly strangers but enemies who stayed, as hostages. Or as prisoners.

The English word "hostage" means "a person given as a pledge or security for the performance of the conditions of a treaty or stipulations of any kind, on the performance of which the person is to be released". During that time a hostage is a guest, unwelcome guest (k(g)osta), but a guest nevertheless...The word comes from Old French "hostage", which comes from Old French "oste" which apparently comes from Latin "hospes" which comes from proposed PIE "*gʰost(i)potis" which comes from PIE "*gʰóstis" meaning guest, visitor, stranger, foreigner but also host to guests, visitors, strangers, foreigners. Now in the past hostages were given to the enemy. They were the ones "who were given to stay behind" as hostages. In Serbian "who stayed give him" = "ko osta da ga" = hostage.

One, on the first glance, very strange thins is that the PIE "*gʰóstis" means stranger, guest, enemy. Now when does a guest become an enemy? When he overstays the welcome and when you have to use force to get him out of your home, of your land. This is when guest becomes a hostile (enemy). The English word "hostile" comes from Middle French "hostile" which comes from Latin hostīlis, which comes from Latin "hostis" ‎meaning enemy, which comes from Proto-Italic "*hostis" which comes from PIE "*gʰóstis" ‎guest, stranger, enemy...

So here you have it. I believe that it is pretty obvious that the PIE "*gʰóstis" does not come from PIE root "*gʰes-" ‎meaning to eat, but that it comes from the PIE root "*steh₂-" which means "to stand, to stop" through Slavic word "osta" meaning stay, remain.

Now let's go back to the "supposed" PIE reconstruction "*gʰost(i)potis", a compound of PIE roots "*gʰóstis" and "*pótis". 

If the PIE root "*gʰóstis" has etymology which can be derived from a construct which was preserved in Slavic languages, is it possible that the other part of of the "*gʰost(i)potis", the PIE root "*pótis" can also be derived from a construct preserved in Slavic languages?

Actually it can. 

The PIE root "*pótis" means master, ruler, husband, father. Now the Slavic word "gospod" which means master, ruler, husband, father is actually short version of the word "gospodar" meaning master ruler. If the above etymology is correct, "gospod" can indeed be split into "gost" + "poda". The "poda" is short of "podari" which means "allows, gives as a gift, bestows, permits..." Which is exactly what a master, ruler, husband, father does...He decides who stays "under his roof", in his village, on his land, in his garden of Eden. The same goes for the hostel owner, inn keeper. 

So gospod = gost + poda = ko + osta + poda = who + stays + permits, allows, gives. Basically gospod is the hospitable one...

And finally lets go back to the Greek word that started all this: "σπίτι" (spiti) meaning "house". The word is said to come from Byzantine Greek "σπίτιν" ‎(spítin), from Koine Greek "ὁσπίτιον" ‎(hospítion), from Latin hospitium ‎meaning "lodgings, guest chamber".

Is it possible that this word does not actually come from the "*gʰost(i)potis" but instead from another construct preserved in Slavic languages? In South Serbian dialects of Slavic languages Latin word hospitium, meaning "lodgings, guest chamber, the place where guests sleep", can be broken into hospitium = ko osta + spi(e) + tu = who stayed (guest) + sleeps + there = lodging,  guest chamber. Even the proposed root of hospitium, the word "hospes" meaning guest, visitor, stranger, foreigner but also host to guests, visitors, strangers, foreigners can be broken into hospes = ko osta + spi(e) = who stayed (guest) + sleeps...

Interesting, don't you think?


  1. Sanskrit word supta means sleep. Serbian spiti and Greek spiti could have been derived from it. Sanskrit word koshtha means a room. Koshtha is derived from another Sanskrit word goshtha which means cowshed. Therefore guest is one who stays in a room outside the main house, that is in he guest room. The Sanskrit word for house is aavaas. Aavaas to habas to hapas to hasap to hospes. From aavaas to havaas to house and office. It is very long route to go from so-called PIE to Greek and Latin. But there is a direct route from Sanskrit to Latin and Greek. This route has been ignored by the linguists.

    1. I would not agree that Slavic words developed from Sanskrit words. Koshtha and Goshtha both derive from osta (to stay). the word ko (who) developed from older ga (pointing masculine), go (pointing neuter), gu (pointing feminine), gi (pointing plural). So both koshtha = ko osta = person stays = room and goshtha = go osta = it (presumably animal) stays = stable...but they are both derived from the same root, to stay...

  2. Supti is another similar Sanskrit word for sleep. Sanskrit Supti and spiti of Greek and Serbian are almost twins or mother-daughter!

    1. All these words come from the same ancient language...

  3. I have just finished reading Colin Renfrew's Archaeology and Language and am hoping you can recommend any books which might update the subject since publication in 1987.

    1. I am sorry but I can't. I haven't actually read that book... :) I will try to read it now.

    2. It's heavy going in parts, but I'm sure you'll enjoy it. It's very relevant to much of your writing.

    3. I'd recommend to read "The Indo-European Controversy: Facts and Fallacies in Historical Linguistics" (2015) by Asya Pereltsvaig and Martin W. Lewis, or "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World Paperback" (2010) by by David W. Anthony

  4. This is very interesting, Goran. I enjoyed reading this wonderful investigation of the linguistic connections.

  5. Sanskrit word 'sthAn'= place, site, place to stay, room, house. As in Hreastan, Hunastan, Lehastan, Parskastan, it is found in names of many other countries: Hindustan (India), Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan.

  6. Hello Goran! As always, it's very interesting to read and the theory is intriguing. But can you really imagine a stage of the linguistic development when our ancestors had spoken solely with "nominalized phrases"? I mean the language is being steadily inherited and the differences will be accumulated in the course of the time. I can't imagine an early era of the Indo-Europeans when the people didn't have any terminology for guest or enemies... because these comcepts are pretty much common and represent a part of the everyday life. Even in the case if the Serbian (or Old-Serbian, or further the Proto-Slavonic) could have been a mother language of all IE languages, it wouldn't work, I think. Didn't they have any enemies before? Didn't they invite any guests before the PIE splitted from the PEA? Can you imagine the 14th century BC when a Proto-Slavonic father on the Balcans (f.ex. in Varna in Bulgaria) says to his children: "You know (moi sinki) my sons, tomorrow will come "sombody whom we invited" to our "place where he can stay" but be careful he can't stay for too long, otherwise he will turn out to be our "sombody who we hate"??? Really like that??? Only because they didn't have any appropriate terms for "guest", "house" and "ennemy"??? It's too idealistic from my viewpoint. Your hypothesis could be working in the lab where the "apes" are simultaneously inventing new words for suddenly appeared new realities which they have never experienced before... But I like your juicy ideas, if it was true, it could explain lots of phenomena)

    1. Hi Evgeny. Thanks for your comments. Here is just few comments on your comments :)

      1. I believe that these words are a lot older than you think.
      2. These words describe a very specific situations. Guest is not someone we invited. It is someone foreign, who for whatever reason, stayed with us. This is a very different concept. The place where he can stay is not a house. Houses at the time these words were coined were small big enough for nuclear families, but not big enough to accommodate guests. This is why hostels were invented. I believe that the word gost can only have the meaning meaning "enemy" when related to overstaying. There is no other explanation for the development of this meaning. I believe that it is possible that this meaning was acquired during the migrations periods. One immigrant is a guest. 1 million immigrants is an invasion. There are many other words for enemy in all these languages.

      This is a very simple explanation and this is it's beauty.

      PS I am not proposing that Slavic languages were the root of all these other languages. Just that Slavic languages preserved the old roots, lost in other IE languages.

      PPS Have a look at the next post about the bones. I believe it confirms my theory described in this post

  7. I'm exploring the etymology of hospital, and hosti-potis seems to be very much related to Etruscan Cosmology and the templem in the sky.