Tuesday, May 13, 2008



Anu Garg, A.Word.A.Day, May 12, 2008 (sideburns):
The words barb, barber, rebarbative, and beard are derived from the same root: Latin barba (beard).
This is inaccurate. English beard is related to, but not derived from, Latin barba. Both share the same Indo-European ancestor. See Calvert Watkins, Indo-European Roots, s.v. bhardhā:
Beard. Possibly related to bhar-, projection, bristle. 1. Germanic *bardaz in Old English beard, beard: BEARD. 2. Germanic bardō, beard, also hatchet, broadax (the association of beard and ax is attested elsewhere in the Indo-European family; both were symbols of patriarchal authority), in Old High German barta, beard, and bart, ax: HALBERD. 3. Latin barba, beard: BARB1, BARBEL, BARBELLATE, (BARBER), BARBETTE, BARBICEL, BARBULE, REBARBATIVE. [Pok. bhardhā 110.]
Walter W. Skeat, An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1893), s.v. halberd (p. 251), compares Icelandic skeggja (halberd), derived from skegg (beard).

Garg's mistake is minor compared with Robert Hendrickson, QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), s.v. barbarian (p. 53):
Barba means "beard" in Latin, and when the Romans called hirsute foreigners barbarians they were strictly calling them "bearded men," though the word shortly came to mean, rightly or wrongly, "rude, uncivilized people." A barber was, of course, one who cut beards or hair. The barber pole outside barber shops today has its origins in the ancient barber's duties as a surgeon and dentist as well as a hair cutter. It was first the symbol of these professions — a blood-smeared white rag. However, barbarian may have Greek origins.
Henderson is way off base here. The derivation of barbarian from Latin barba is totally bogus, a folk etymology. The word barbarian is indubitably (not just possibly) Greek in origin, and it has nothing to do with beards. The Romans didn't regard bearded men as barbarians. The Romans themselves wore beards during certain historical periods and were clean-shaven in others. In general, they wore beards before the second century B.C. and after the 2nd century A.D.

Related post: Barbarians and Beards.

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