Earlier this week I posted some questions about the etymology of Kerberos. After some hours of silence, the issue started getting tossed about on twitter by some great people. And, I think, the conversation not only offered some great new suggestions, but it may have generated something new. The punchline is that we have two new suggestions.
One, suggests that it may be a borrowing from Asia Minor, related to Proto-turkic kara-boru (“black-wolfhound”); the other posits a Phoenician root *klb-‘rz (“hound of the earth”). I could describe how we got there, but I would rather just post all the tweets here. Note, the kind conversation, the collaboration, and the wordplay!
(In my humble opinion, this is twitter at its best).
Thanks to the stalwart correspondents who made this possible!
If you do a little searching on the internet you might find the assertion that the Greek word Kerberos is cognate with Sanskrit karbarah, sabalah “spotted, speckled;” and, therefore, that it is related to our pet name “Spot”. This is a nice story, but like many nice stories, it is probably not true.
Pierre Chantraine lists this as a “doubted for good reasons”. (Here’s a link for a free download of the dictionary). I don’t really have a better suggestion, but I can quote some equally valid nonsense from antiquity.
Kerberos: From “karbaros” which is from having a heavy head. For the dog in Hades had three heads, as the story goes about the dog Kerberos.
Κέρβερος, παρὰ τὸ κάρβαρος, ἢ παρὰ τὸ τὴν κάραν βαρεῖν· τρικέφαλος γὰρ ἦν κύων ἐν ᾅδου, ὡς μυθεύεται κύωνος κέρβερος.
Cf. κάραβος (karabos) “horned beetle”
Also consider from Hesychius the Lexicographer:
Kerberioi: Weak-men. They also call the Kimmerians Kerberians. And some call their city Kerberia, but others call it Kimmeria. Others say that Kimmê is as place in Hades.
κερβέριοι· ἀσθενεῖς. φασὶ δὲ καὶ τοὺς Κιμμερίους Κερβερίους· καὶ τὴν πόλιν οἱ μὲν Κερβερίαν καλοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ Κιμμερίην· ἄλλοι δὲ †Κιμμη. ἔστι δὲ τόπος ἐν ᾅδου (λ 14).