September 12, 2007

Etymologist 8: Sandalwood and ไม้จันทน์

Continuing in the vein of recent posts, on etymological links between English and Thai (through Sanskrit), today let's look at sandalwood.

First off, the name apparently has nothing to do with the footwear. The name sandal meaning open-toed shoe comes from Old French, which in turn is from the Latin, which comes from the Greek, and ultimately is probably a Persian word, says the Online Etymological Dictionary*.

The sandal in sandalwood comes into English via a similar path. It would have been a homophone with the footwear in Old French, but from different Latin and Greek roots. It came into Greek from either Persian or Turkish, but ultimately comes from the Sanskrit candana-m. Sandalwood in Thai is called ไม้จันทน์, which transcribed in the Mary Haas method (minus ไม้) is canthana. (Note that this is not the same spelling as จันทร์ "moon"--though I'll get into how these two words are related in a future post).

So that's the story of the connection between sandal(wood) and (ไม้)จันทน์.

I just noticed that this, the formal name for the English etymology resource found at, ironically has the initials OED--ironic because it's the poor man's Oxford English Dictionary. It's no substitute, but charges a hefty sum to subscribe.

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