E 0653 OWL

English "owl" is of Germanic origin

H 0019 ח א

Concept of root: owl

Hebrew word

pronunciation

English meanings

ח א

oagh

eagle-owl

Related English words

owl

Comparison between European words and Hebrew

Languages

Words

Pronunciation

English meanings

Similarity in roots

Hebrew

א ח

oagh

eagle-owl

o . gh

English

owl

owl

o w l

Old English

ule

owl

u l .

Dutch

oehoe

uhu

eagle-owl

o h .

German

Uhu

uhu

eagle owl

u h .

Norwegian

ugle

ugle

owl

u g l

Old Norse

ugla;

ufr

-

ugla;

ufr

-

owl;

owl (little -, eagle -)

u g l;

u f r

Swedish

uggla

ugla

owl

u g l

 

 

Hebrew *OAGH --- *UGH Indo-European

 

 

The first thought one may have upon learning the name of this impressive bird that is the eagle-owl, is that it is based on the sound of its voice. And this may be quite true. But animals voices are "translated" in the spellings of human languages in incredibly varied ways. It is well known that different languages give quite different onomatopoeic names for the same sound. This means that similarity in such names can be of importance.

 

And for that reason, if the names are very similar, as in the case of this entry, there may be a common origin. Useful is to see that the vowel "A" in Hebrew "oagh" is not present in the plural "oghim".

 

The matter is illustrated by some other names of the same bird, besides English "eagle-owl", that odd title because this animal does not at all look like an eagle. It is just bigger, much bigger than other common owls. French says " hibou", Italian "gufo", Spanish "buho", Norwegian "hubro" and Swedish "berguv".

 

With a common origin more probable between West-Germanic ( German and Dutch ) and Hebrew, a step further can be made. "Uhu" and "oagh" differ in the position of the H, that then at the end of the Hebrew name becomes the stronger GH. If we see that an eagle-owl is visibly an "owl", we may look at some other names for the smaller version . English "owl" corresponds with German "Eule" and Dutch "uil", but also with Swedish "uggla".

 

With that two things become probable . First, that the L in "owl" originally was a diminutive.

 

Secondly, the consequence of this is that there was in all probability an original word composed of the two consonants " W + G", of which the pronunciations varied: regarding the "W" from U to UV to OW etcetera. Regarding the "G" from G to GH or GG and even in front of the diminutive L sometimes into disappearing.

 

The conclusion can only be that the big eagle-owl in Hebrew had a name with the same root as that of the smaller owls in Germanic . At the same time the names for the eagle-owl in Germanic tongues have been developed out of the same root as well. A German eagle-owl, an "Uhu" has the same root in its name as the smaller owl, the "Eule".

 

It is improbable that the name "owl", as some think, is sound-imitating , for which then a comparison is made with " to howl ". The various sounds owls make, and which we can hear so clearly in the night, and that these birds also made when Old English called them "ule" and Old High German "uwila", have nothing to do with "howling", nor with ululating. Further confirmation of this way of seeing the origin of "owl" is to be found in many other names for it. Old English has "uf", Old High German "uvo", middle Dutch "ufe" and the Vikings said "ufr", ending the noun with an extra R as they loved to do.

 

The misunderstanding about the origin of the word "owl" may have been caused by the fact that Latin for various types of owls, besides the names "bubo" and "strix" also used for the smallest ones "ulucus ( Italian "allocco") " and "ulula". This "ulula" in English is just called "Little Owl" and it is known for its wailing shrieks , quite different from other owls, and that has apparently made it acquire its Latin name.

 

Note:
  • Proto-Semitic. There is unsufficient material to form a hypothesis of a specific root for Proto-Semitic.

 

Note:
  • Proto-Germanic. Several roots are used in Germanic languages to indicate either "owl" in general or specific types of owls. The pattern is not fully clear. Many have in common an opening vowel that is either a long "U" or a development out of that vowel, like "" or again a diphthong like "EU" (German "Eule". Or again "UV" or "UF". The sound "UV" can be seen as a development of simple "U", the basic sound that is wrongly seen as sound imitating because it can be heard in the voice of some owls, but decidedly not all of them . Most voices are higher and sharper or even shriek, but the eagle owl indeed is near a couple of "U"'s, and that have contributed to the German name "Uhu" and identical Dutch "oehoe". These words may be relatively young.

     

    In a number of words in North Germanic we find a G-sound, comparable to the "GH" that is present in Hebrew. This "G" is then followed by an "L". See Old Norse "uggla". But in West Germanic there is either a "H" or just that "L". Further there seems to have taken place some metathesis, where we see the "H" in front of the what we like to call "waw"-developments, that are the vowel-sounds ""UO", UWO, UWE" as found in Old Saxon "huo" Swiss German ""Huw" and the very interesting couples in Old High German "huwo" and "huwila" and Middle High German "huwe" and "huwel".

     

    Possibly the "L" had been added after the "G" or "GG" already in Proto-Germanic. This combination was then maintained in North Germanic , that also kept the very short "uv" as in Swedish besides "uggla" .But in West Germanic with speakers that would not be fond of that "GGL" , the "G"-sounds disappeared or, if they have begun in North Germanic, never appeared. . This has occurred early as we see Old Saxon as well as Old High German with "uwila", perhaps specifically saying "night owl", where the "G" has been compensated by a "Y-sound" that easily became "u".

     

    Proto-Germanic may well have distinguished between various types of owls, using related but different names, among which several diminutives with a final "L". Presumably Proto-Germanic had a basic "*U V-" as well as a "*U H" or "UGH" and further "*U H L" or "*U GG L -" that may thus at least originally have indicated certain types of owls. It is possible that the consonant "L", originally a diminutive, later lost that specific connotation.

 

Note:
  • Indo-European. Outside Germanic there many names for various types of owls that are of different origins, like Slavic "sowa", Greek "glaux", "büas" and "kukuwasha", Latin "noctua" , "bubo", but:

     

    Old Indian has "ulūka-" for "owl". The basis is narrow, but "*U L-" may have been part of a name for "owl" in Indo-European. Or, rather, Old Indian "ulūka-" might be in metathesis with a Germanic "*uggl -" . Indo-European may have used the combinations "*U GH" and "*U L-" for or in names for various owls.

 

 

 

 
Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: 25/09/2012 at 21.48.11