Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Lexember, Day 12: istêna, pethru

Today’s words are an example of something that happens quite often in mixed language and languages with strong influence from another: synonyms of the same word from different families. Usually over time such words take on narrower meanings as they attempt to “share” semantic space. 

In this case, while both have a base definition of ‘stone’, istêna often has a further connotation of a decorative or precious stone or mineral, while pethru is generally more of a common rock or stone on the ground or perhaps used for building; a bit like stone (a direct cognate of istêna) and rock, an early borrowing from Medieval Latin rocca, from an uncertain source (possibly from a Celtic or non-Indo-European language).

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