Thursday, May 1, 2008

Phoenician Origin of the Word "Patasso"

Gerald Leonard-Cohen, in an article published in the Journal of Indo European Studies (1979) examines the origin of the Greek word "patasso" (to strike; hit) and the Greek words derived from it (patagos, patageo, pataks). He hypothesizes that the word derives from the Phoenician word "patish", which is the word for a forgehammer. He reconstructs a verb based upon this noun, which comes out as *patash. Through a slight shift in meaning, the word came to mean strike or hit generally, without the specific connotations of metalsmithing.

The argument he presents to account for the differences in verbal forms, though, seems to me rather weak. He argues, from analogy, that the form "epataksa" (1st p. aorist) functions the same as the verb "arasso", whose aorist form is "eraksa". However, he fails to account for the shift from the -ss- to the -k-. I believe it can be accounted for as follows:

On the basis of the -ss- in the stem, I would reconstruct the proto-Greek stem of the verb as *patakjo. We shall see why in a moment. The phoneme structure -kj- was rather unstable; consequently it moved to -ts-, thus producing *patatso. From here, it is an easy move to either the Attic "patatto" or the Ionic "patasso". Thus, the form with the -k- in the stem is in fact the original one and is retained in the aorist forms. A similar shift can be seen in the word "phulatto" (to guard); *phulakjo>*phulatso>phulatto/phulasso.

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