September 12, 2007

Etymologist 9: Can't hold a candle to the moon

I found a really cool link while researching the sandalwood/ไม้จันทน์ connection.

First, I didn't know until just now that the Thai words จันทน์ "sandalwood" and จันทร์ "moon" were related. It turns out that both words (borrowed from Sanskrit) are from the PIE base *kand- meaning "to glow, to shine." The literal meaning of จันทน์ would be "(wood for) burning incense," referring to the common use of that variety of wood. จัทนร์ would mean "shining; glowing." It has come to mean "moon" because the moon shines.

Our modern word candle comes from the Old English candel, from Latin candela "a light, torch" in turn from candere "to shine." Which is cognate with Sanskrit candra-, and therefore related to Thai จันทร์. (Also from the same Latin root are our English words candor, candid, incandescent, and incendiary, among others.)

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