Melting Pots and Other Mix-Ups

Stralsund is a town originally founded by the Slavic Rani (as far as we know).  It makes its first historical appearance in 1234 as Stralowe in a document issued by Vislav I, the duke of Rugia (one of those Slavic chieftains who gave in and got themselves new jobs as imperial dukes) in Charenz/Charenza.

We will not discuss here the rather obvious connections between Charenz and Carinthia or the Portuguese town of Chorenze.

Rather just wanted to bring up a rather curious little fact.  Sund is the same as the English “sound” (as in bay or inlet).  Its origin is obviously Germanic.  Stralowe, on the other hand was clearly named after the Slavic word for arrow (*strěla).  In fact to this day the town’s coat of arms features such an arrow:

Traditional red and white “Wendish” colors

But then we come to an interesting question, what is the etymology of the Slavic word for arrow which is the same in all Slavic languages?  It supposedly comes from a proto-Slavic word *strěla.

You can even come up with a pretty good etymology coming from the word trzec meaning “to rub” or “to grind.” (Interestingly these words can also mean “to quarrel”).  The grinding referring to the process of making the arrow or perhaps the arrow rubbing against the bow.  The initial “s” indicating completion/origin (as in “coming from grinding”).

On the other hand, there is a word stral or strale which appears in Germanic languages (Old English stræl).

Predictably, there are also those who believe that it was then borrowed into Slavic.  The people who believe that are, of course, unbothered by the fact that the Slavic version appears in all Slavic languages.  They are also unbothered by the fact that the Germanic languages also have:

  • arrow (arwan, Gothic arhwanza) related to “arc” (either bow or, more likely, the path of an arrow – think big battles; compare though with urwac meaning “to rip out”)
  • Pheil/pil (< pilowac !?) or flaflan (fly?)
  • quarrel
  • bolt (slightly different meaning – think crossbow)

and others.

Given all of that it is hard to assume that Germanic peoples had so many different original names for the same thing.  Were the situation reversed (many different names in Slavic but one of those (and only one) also found in Germanic), most academics would argue that the Slavic word also found in Germanic would necessarily be of Germanic origin (i.e., import into Slavic).  And yet, here some still argued that the Slavic came from Germanic.

This is the same reasoning as the one that:

  • allows for –mir to be a Slavic suffix but also lays a potential Germanic – depending on the context – claim to some appearances of it,
  • but reserves –mar and -mer exclusively for the Germanic sphere.

You can see where this is going, of course.  Since the Germanics were the warrior group, it, of course, makes sense that they would have “invented”their own word for “arrow”.  You can also use this to prove that Slavs did not know arrows until they learned of their existence from Germanics.  Perhaps, in your mind’s eye, you can even see a cohort of Slavic peasants servicing a Germanic lord’s bow by quickly grinding out arrows for his upcoming campaign against the Romans, Persians or whatever else his testosterone driven brain set its sights upon.  You might even try to prove that the very concept of “rubbing” became known to Slavs by way of testosterone-infused Germanics… 🙂

To be fair, there is the word “strahlen” meaning project rays (or, more recently, radioactivity) and things may be gestreut as in spread out (related to “stray”).

But then there is also “stream” (but also strimon/strumien in Slavic) and a whole host of other IE words conveying a similar concept.

Original Germanic word?

It seems that “arrow” may have come from the “original” version of an “arrow-concept” in Germanic languages.

  • Old English: earharwearewe
    • Middle English: arwearewearowearow
      • Scots: arowearow
      • English: arrow
  • Old Norse: ǫr
    • Icelandic: ör
    • Faroese: ørvørvur
    • Old Swedish: arf

Whereas the various strales in Scandinavian languages appear to be borrowings from German (MLG) probably via the Hanseatic League though maybe earlier.

This raises another series of questions

If the conclusion is that strale was an import into Germanic (West Germanic) languages then the question must inevitably be asked – from whom?  That question is intertwined with the date of the borrowing, that is “when” was the word borrowed?  

One might hesitate to note that if strahlen was also imported then these imports must have come early.

If you keep on this path, you may conclude that there may have been multiple migrations of people who (linguistically) could be designated as “Slavs” over many centuries.

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July 10, 2017

4 thoughts on “Melting Pots and Other Mix-Ups

  1. Savalas

    The complexity of S-TR- compound, numerous in both Germanuc and Slavic langs incl also STRAIGHT, STREET/STRASSE, STRUDEL, etc, seems made up of onomatopeic Sssss and TR describing the torque (funny – TR became Torque!)
    or also an impact…think of cartoon movies … sounds of an arrow flying and hitting a wooden plank….Sssss..TRTRTRTR!

    1. Savalas

      You might be right about MIR/MIR analogy in division in STR word functions in Germanic and Slavic. Why? Slavic languages are enclavic, made up of few robust languages, Germanic had more composite languages…I mean language families, languages and dialects.

    2. torino Post author

      strike streak strain strafe


      stromy stryj strona struga but also the “strz” prefixes: strzecha strzyc strzep strzemie


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