Cock and Bull Etymology

Isidore of Seville, Etymologies 12.7:

The cock [gallus] is named after castration; for among other birds, it alone has its testicles removed, and the ancients used to call eunuchs cocks [galli]. Just as lioness is derived from lion, serpetness from serpent, so too is hen (gallina) derived from cock (gallus). Certain people say that if its limbs are mixed with molten gold, they are consumed entirely.

Fighting roosters on a Roman mosaic

Gallus a castratione vocatus; inter ceteras enim aves huic solo testiculi adimuntur. Veteres enim abscisos gallos vocabant. Sicut autem a leone leaena et a dracone dracaena, ita a gallo gallina. Cuius membra, ut ferunt quidam, si auro liquescenti misceantur, consumi.

Blessed Isles and Denial: Some Etymological Notes

Photios, Lexikon, Μακάρων νῆσος

“the Isle of the Blessed. The Acropolis of Boiotian Thebes in ancient times, according to Armenidas.”

Μακάρων νῆσος· ἡ ἀκρόπολις τῶν ἐν Βοιωτίαι Θηβῶν τὸ παλαιόν, ὡς ᾽Αρμεν<ί>δας.

Hesychius s.v. βουλεψίη

“Boulepsiê: This word is in Xanthos. For he says that when they give birth to a male, they gouge out his eyes with their own hands.”

βουλεψίη· ἡ λέξις παρὰ Ξάνθωι. λέγει δὲ τὰς ᾽Αμαζόνας ἐπειδὰν τέκωσιν ἄρρεν, ἐξορύσσειν αὐτοῦ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοχειρίαι.

BNJ 453 F 1a (=Etym. Magn. S.v. ῞Αρνη)

“Arnê: A nymph and nurse of Poseidon. The nymph Sinoessa is also named Arnê, reportedly, because when she received Poseidon from Rhea to raise him, she denied it (aparnêsato) when Kronos came asking about him. For this she was called Arnê [denial]. That’s the account of Theseus in the third book of his Korinthian Affairs.”

῎Αρνη· νύμφη, τροφὸς Ποσειδῶνος. εἴρηται δὲ καὶ ῎Αρνη ἡ νύμφη Σινόεσσα καλουμένη, ὅτι τὸν Ποσειδῶνα λαβοῦσα παρὰ τῆς ῾Ρέας ἐκτρέφειν, πρὸς τὸν Κρόνον ζητοῦντα ἀπηρνήσατο, καὶ ἐντεῦθεν ῎Αρνη ὠνομάσθη. οὕτω Θησεὺς ἐν Κορινθιακῶν τρίτωι.

Hieronymus Löschenkohl Joseph II. im Elysium.jpg
Hieronymus Löschenkohl (1753–1807): Ankunft Josephs II. in Elysium, kolorierter Stich, 1790

Sh*tting The Bed in Ancient Greek

“Does anyone know the ancient Greek for shitting the bed?”

It is a sign of the high rhetoric of our sophisticated era that this (perhaps rhetorical) question was posed in Marina Hyde’s Guardian opinion piece on the befuddled blond-con PM Boris Johnson who just happens to have a Classical education.* It is perhaps also a sign of my esteemed place in this ecology of elevated discourse that multiple people tweeted me the question. And, finally, it is a sign of my own academic training that I resisted the urge initially because my first thought was “well, now, Ancient Greek just does not have that idiom.”

But, if it did, well, it might look like one of these:

“to shit the bed,” κλινοχέζειν

“bed-shitter,” κλινοχέστης

“to recline in dung,” κοπροκλίνειν

“shit-sleeper,” σκατοκαθεύδων

(for Ancient Greek students, we have two compound infinitives, a compound agentive noun, and a compound participle!)

There are many Greek words for bed apart from klinê. One could also select koitê, strômnê, lektron, or lekhos. I chose klinê because it may be familiar from the English clinomania. I avoided koitê because it has a sexual use in English and the last thing I would want to do is imply that we are talking about a shit-fucking politician. I chose khezein for the verb because it is, according to Henderson’s Maculate Muse, the “standard term” (188). The ending χέστης is a totally made-up agentive from khezein. The participle  χέσας appears for the “shitter”  at Aristophanes Birds 790.

Based on the parallel βορβορκοίτης (“lying in filth,” Batrakh 220) we could have σκατοκοίτης / κοπροκοίτης (“lying in shit”) but I don’t think this compound gets to the sense of the English idiom which is, essentially, to fuck up so completely that you might as well be lying in a post-mortem pile of shit.

If you want to play along, here’s an earlier post about various words for excrement and here’s another with compounds for beds. Apparently this is a “chiefly US expression” reddit is divided on the origin of the phrase, one person asserting that it has to do with bowel evacuation after death.

Ancient Greek seems sadly deficient in scatological proverbs. I found only one:

Arsenius, 6.70c

“You have fallen into Augeus’ dung: this means “you are immersed in filth”

 Εἰς τὴν Αὐγέου κόπρον ἐμπέπτωκας: ἤγουν ἐβορβορώθης.

*”happens to have” is perhaps unfair and untrue. He has this education because he is part of a moneyed elite who use education as one of many tools to decorate the facade of their elitist pillaging of their country and blithe assumption to the privilege of rule.

h/t @brixtandrew and the others who brought this to my attention

I found this while searching:

Sophron, fr. 11

“They filled their bedroom with shit while dancing”

βαλλίζοντες τὸν θάλαμον σκάτους ἐνέπλησαν

Damox, fr. 2. 15-16

“Rub him down with shit / and expel him from school”

μινθώσας ἄφες / ὡς ἐκ διατριβῆς

Image result for shit the bed
Someone made this. It seemed appropriate

Thirsty as A Wolf: How Lykia Got Its Name

BNJ 769 F 2 Antoninos Liberalis, Metamorphoses, 35

“Cowherds: Menekrates the Xanthian reports in his Lykian Matters and Nicander does as well. Once she gave birth to Apollo and Artemis on the island Asteria, Leto went to Lykia carrying the children to the baths of Xanthus. And as soon she she appeared in the land, she went to the Melitean spring where she wanted her children to drink before they went to the Xanthus.

But when some cowherds drove her away, so that their cattle might drink from the spring, Leto retreated, abandoning the Melitê, and wolves came to meet her, and they gave her directions and led her right up to the Xanthus itself while wagging their tails. She drank the water, bathed her children and made the Xanthus sacred to Apollo. She also changed the land’s name to Lykia—it was called Tremilis before—after the wolves who led her there.

Then she went again to the spring to bring punishment to the cowherds who drove her off. At they time they were washing their cattle near the spring. After she changed them all into frogs and struck their backs and shoulders with rough stones, she threw them all into the spring and granted them  life in the water. In our time still, they shout out along the rivers and ponds.”

Βουκόλοι. ἱστορεῖ Μενεκράτης Ξάνθιος Λυκιακοῖς καὶ Νίκανδρος. Λητὼ ἐπεὶ ἔτεκεν ᾽Απόλλωνα καὶ ῎Αρτεμιν ἐν ᾽Αστερίαι τῆι νήσωι, ἀφίκετο εἰς Λυκίαν ἐπιφερομένη τοὺς παῖδας ἐπὶ τὰ λουτρὰ τοῦ Ξάνθου  καὶ ἐπεὶ τάχιστα ἐγένετο ἐν τῆι γῆι ταύτηι, ἐνέτυχε πρῶτα Μελίτηι κρήνηι, καὶ προεθυμεῖτο πρὶν ἐπὶ τὸν Ξάνθον ἐλθεῖν ἐνταυθοῖ τοὺς παῖδας ἀπολοῦσαι. (2) ἐπεὶ δὲ αὐτὴν ἐξήλασαν ἄνδρες βουκόλοι, ὅπως ἂν αὐτοῖς οἱ βόες ἐκ τῆς κρήνης πίωσιν, ἀπαλλάττεται καταλιποῦσα τὴν Μελίτην ἡ Λητώ, λύκοι δὲ συναντόμενοι καὶ σήναντες ὑφηγήσαντο τῆς ὁδοῦ, καὶ ἀπήγαγον ἄχρι πρὸς τὸν ποταμὸν αὐτὴν τὸν Ξάνθον. (3) ἡ δὲ πιοῦσα τοῦ ὕδατος καὶ ἀπολούσασα τοὺς παῖδας τὸν μὲν Ξάνθον ἱερὸν ἀπέδειξεν ᾽Απόλλωνος, τὴν δὲ γῆν Τρεμιλίδα λεγομένην Λυκίαν μετωνόμασεν ἀπὸ τῶν καθηγησαμένων λύκων. (4) ἐπὶ δὲ τὴν κρήνην αὖτις ἐξίκετο δίκην ἐπιβαλοῦσα τοῖς ἀπελάσασιν αὐτὴν βουκόλοις. καὶ οἱ μὲν ἀπέλουον τότε παρὰ τὴν κρήνην τοὺς βοῦς, Λητὼ δὲ μεταβαλοῦσα πάντας ἐποίησε βατράχους, καὶ λίθωι τραχεῖ τύπτουσα τὰ νῶτα καὶ τοὺς ὤμους κατέβαλε πάντας εἰς τὴν κρήνην, καὶ βίον ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς καθ᾽ ὓδατος · οἱ δὲ ἄχρι νῦν παρὰ ποταμοὺς βοῶσι καὶ λίμνας.

Lycian rock cut tombs of Dalyan
Tombs in Lykia (AlexanderShap at en.wikipedia)

Ares’ Priests and a Hill in His Name

BNJ 123 F 6 [=P.Oxy., 2.218, col. 2.8]

“If one of Ares’ priests die, he is wrapped well by the local people and taken into some public space after the third die. When his relatives cremate him, the temple acolyte elected by the people places the god’s sword under the body. Once there is total silence, if everything is done lawfully, the priest receives those things which are done.

But if there is some knowledge of an accusation, once the iron is put under the priest’s body, he is called back to like and he offers an accusation of how much he transgressed against the god. Once this is prosecuted—there is a [ of the accounts]…and he bears [the penalty] for the entire responsibility. This is how Arkhelaos and Zenodotus explain it in their works…”

ἐὰν ἱερεὺς ἀποθάνηι τοῦ ῎Αρεως, περιστέλλεται εὐκοσμίως ὑπὸ τῶν ἐγχωρίων καὶ εἴς τινα τόπον φέρεται δημόσιον μετὰ τὴν τρίτην ἡμέραν. καιόντων δὲ τῶν συγγενῶν (?) ὁ χειροτονηθεὶς ὑπὸ τοῦ δήμου ζάκορος ὑποτίθησι τῶι νεκρῶι τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ξίφος. καὶ σιγῆς γενομένης βαθείας, ἐὰν ἦι νομίμως, λαμβάνει τῶν γινομένων· ἐὰν δὲ ἐγκλήματός τινος ἔχηι συνείδησιν, ἐπὶ τῶι τὸν σίδηρον ὑποβληθῆναι ἀ … εται καὶ αὐτὸς ἑ[αυτ]ο̣ῦ̣ κα[τηγ]ο̣ρεῖ ὅ̣σα παρενόμησεν εἰς τὸν θεόν. διηγούμενος δ̣ .. | εχο̣ν δ[..] ν λόγων τῶν α̣μ [..]| τη κατ[.]..[.] ρονι̣ […]. ω̣[…]ραν ἐ̣[πιφ]έρει ὑπὲρ τ̣[ῆς] ὅλης [αἰτίας. οὕτως] | ᾽Αρχέλ̣[αο]ς καὶ Ζην[όδοτος | ἐν τοῖς] περὶ τύφου (?).


Hellanikos, BNJ 323a F 1

 “Areopagos. A combination of meaningful words. Areios and Pagos. It is court in Athens. It was called the “hill of Ares” because the court is on a hill and is on the top and after Ares because it is where murder cases are adjudicated and Ares is associated with murders. Or, this may be the place where Ares  stuck  [epêkse] his spear in a suit brought against him by Poseidon over the murder of Halirrothios. Ares killed him because he raped his daughter Alkippê from Agraulos, Kekrops’ daughter, as Hellenikos claims in his first book.”

 Anonymus, Συναγωγὴ λέξεων χρησίμων, 1, 422, 22

῎Αρειος πάγος· δικαστήριον ᾽Αθήνησιν …. ἐκλήθη δὲ ῎Αρειος πάγος ἤτοι ὅτι ἐν πάγωι ἐστὶ καὶ ἐν ὕψει τὸ δικαστήριον, ῎Αρειος δέ, ἐπεὶ τὰ φονικὰ δικάζει, ὁ δὲ ῎Αρης ἐπὶ τῶν φόνων· ἢ ὅτι ἔπηξε τὸ δόρυ ἐκεῖ ὁ ῎Αρης ἐν τῆι πρὸς Ποσειδῶνα ὑπὲρ ῾Αλιρροθίου δίκηι, ὅτε ἀπέκτεινεν αὐτὸν βιασάμενον ᾽Αλκίππην, τὴν αὐτοῦ καὶ ᾽Αγραύλου τῆς Κέκροπος θυγατέρα, ὥς φησιν ῾Ελλάνικος ἐν ᾱ.

 This court was largely limited to homicide after the Ephialtic reforms (c. 465 BCE). The second tale pushes the basic etymology (“Hill of Ares”) even further and gives an aetiological narrative for Athenians putting a spear in the grave of murder victims. This narrative also recalls the conflict between Athena and Poseidon over the sponsorship of the city. See Fowler 2013, 454.

Modern Areopagus. By Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Feeling “Hangry” in Ancient Greek

My daughter  learned a series of neologisms at school this year, including the clever but cloying “hangry”. What is a classically trained pedant to do but look for ancient precedents for a newly coined term?

 Phrynichus, fr. 75

“In the grumpy rages of old men with rotting lives.”

ἐν χαλεπαῖς ὀργαῖς ἀναπηροβίων †γερόντων

Aristophanes, Knights 706-7

“You’re so cranky! Come on, what can I feed you?
What do you munch on most happily? Is it a wallet?”

ὡς ὀξύθυμος. φέρε τί σοι δῶ καταφαγεῖν;
ἐπὶ τῷ φάγοις ἥδιστ᾿ ἄν; ἐπὶ βαλλαντίῳ;

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 291 c (book 7=Nicomachus, fr. 1)

“Some foods make you gassy or give you indigestion or give
Punishment instead of nourishment. Everyone who eats
Something which is bad for them gets sharp-tempered or crazy.”

…τῶν γὰρ βρωμάτων
πνευματικὰ καὶ δύσπεπτα καὶ τιμωρίαν
ἔχοντ᾿ ἔνι᾿ ἔστιν, οὐ τροφήν, δειπνῶν δὲ πᾶς
τἀλλότρια γίνετ᾿ ὀξύχειρ κοὐκ ἐγκρατής·

Palladas, Greek Anthology 11.371

“Don’t invite me to be a witness for your hunger-bringing plates…”

Μή με κάλει δίσκων ἐπιίστορα λιμοφορήων

Cf. λιμοκτονεῖν,  “to kill by hunger, to starve to death”


Suggested compounds (all new, of course):

λιμοχολοῦσθαι, (limokholousthai): “to feel anger because of hunger”

λιμομηνίειν, (limomêniein): “to feel rage because of hunger” (with implication that the subject is divine

λιμοθυμεῖσθαι: (limothumeisthai): “to be upset because of hunger”

λιμοδυσφορεῖν: (limodusphorein): “to handle hunger badly”

hunger killing

Ridiculous Etymologies: New York Times Edition

Folk etymology is a long-lived tradition empowering writers to fabricate etymological explanations to suit their current interpretive and argumentative needs.

Procrastinate: To be In favor of Being Out of Control from the New York Times, March 25, 2019.


Here’s what those joyless pedants of the Oxford English Dictionary have to say about it:

Procras OED


Just in case you were wondering, the ancient Romans and Greeks did have the concept of procrastination. Here are some passages I collected about it.

But where would we be without hermeneutically adventurous lexicography? Plato makes it a centerpiece of his Cratylus! And we have dictionaries dedicated to it:

“Lipless Achilles” Kallierges, Etymologicum Magnum 182

“Akhilleus: [this name comes from] lessening grief, for Achilles was a doctor. Or it is because of the woe, which is pain, he brought to his mother and the Trojans. Or it is from not touching his lips to food [khilê]. For he had no serving of milk at all, but was fed with stag-marrow by Kheiron. This is why he was hailed by the Myrmidons in the following way, according to Euphoriôn:

He came to Phthia without ever tasting any food
This is why the Myrmidons named him Achilles.”

᾿Αχιλλεύς: Παρὰ τὸ ἄχος λύειν· ἰατρὸς γὰρ ἦν. ῍Η διὰ τὸ ἄχος (ὅ ἐστι λύπην) ἐπενεγκεῖν τῇ μητρὶ καὶ τοῖς ᾿Ιλιεῦσιν. ῍Η διὰ τὸ μὴ θίγειν χείλεσι χιλῆς, ὅ ἐστι τροφῆς· ὅλως γὰρ οὐ μετέσχε γάλακτος, ἀλλὰ μυελοῖς ἐλάφων ἐτράφη ὑπὸ Χείρωνος. ῞Οτι ὑπὸ Μυρμιδόνων ἐκλήθη, καθά φησιν Εὐφορίων,

᾿Ες Φθίην χιλοῖο κατήϊε πάμπαν ἄπαστος.
τοὔνεκα Μυρμιδόνες μιν ᾿Αχιλέα φημίξαντο.

Odysseus Was Born on the Road in the Rain: Kallierges, Etymologicum Magnum 615

“The name Odysseus has been explained through the following story. For they claim that when Antikleia, Odysseus’ mother, was pregnant she was travelling [hodeuousan] on Mt. Neritos in Ithaka, and it began to rain [husantos] terribly Because of her labor and fear she collapsed and gave birth to Odysseus there. So, he obtained is name in this way, since Zeus, on the road [hodon] rained [hûsen].”

᾿Οδυσσεύς: Εἴρηται ἀπὸ ἱστορίας. ᾿Αντίκλειαν γάρ φασι τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως μητέρα ἐγκύμονα ὁδεύουσαν τὸ Νήριτον τῆς ᾿Ιθάκης ὄρος, ὕσαντος πολὺ τοῦ Διὸς, ὑπὸ ἀγωνίας τε καὶ φόβου καταπεσοῦσαν ἀποτεκεῖν τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα. Οὕτω ταύτης τῆς ὀνομασίας ἔτυχεν, ἐπειδὴ κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ὗσεν ὁ Ζεύς.

It is more typical to derive Odysseus’ name from the verb odussomai, which means something like “being hateful, being hated”.  Autolykos, Odysseus’ maternal grandfather, is reported to have named him in the Odyssey (19.407–409).

“I have come to this point hated [odussamenos] by many—
Both men and women over the man-nourishing earth.
So let his name be Ody[s]seus…”

πολλοῖσιν γὰρ ἐγώ γε ὀδυσσάμενος τόδ’ ἱκάνω,
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξὶν ἀνὰ χθόνα βωτιάνειραν·
τῷ δ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς ὄνομ’ ἔστω ἐπώνυμον…