E 0065          AXILLA, OXTER

The word "axilla" comes from Latin, but has Germanic sisters. "Oxter" is of Germanic origin.

H 0074           א צ י ל , א צ י ל ה

Concept of root: arm-pit

Hebrew word


English meanings

א צ י ל , א צ י ל ה

atsil, atsila


Related English words

axilla, oxter

Comparison between European words and Hebrew




English meanings

Similarity in roots


א צ י ל ,

א צ י ל ה

atsil ,



a ts . l


*acsilla, axilla



a x . l





m . skh . l

Old Germanic




a hs . l





a ks . l



Proto-Semitic *ATSAL --- *AKSLA Indo-European



Our impression is that a shift of sound has produced the creation of "KS" in Latin and Germanic languages against "TS" in Semitic. This becomes more plausible when we consider that Old Germanic had just an "H" in "HS", and not yet "KS" .


There are interesting cases in which we find a Q-sound instead of a TS-sound, within the same concept, for example that of "earth". Aramaic has the word " א ר ק א " , araqà , saying "earth" that has led to Medieval Hebrew " א ר ק ה " araqà , whereas Biblical Hebrew has " א ר ץ " , arets ( that has remained in Modern language ) , also meaning "earth".


  • Greek. has an "M" in front of the word that for the rest is very near to that in the other tongues. Only the "KH" and the "S" have changed place, a not surprising metathesis.


    The Greek word may in fact be quite unrelated to the other words of this entry. Greek scholars see this word without any known etymology. There is as well a shorter " μ α λ η, malè = armpit", rarily used but in the expression "under the armpits".


  • Latin also has a shorter word, "ala" that means "armpit" as well as "shoulder", but has as its principal and very well known meaning that of "wing". To explain "axilla" a disappeared "*agsla" has been invented, but that is very improbable. Wings may depart from the shoulders, but are so different in their functioning reality that they would not receive that name. Instead "ala" is rather related to "altus".


    Anyhow "axilla" has cognates or rather sisters all over the place in Germanic languages and has its own etymology, independent from "ala".


  • Proto-Semitic. The Hebrew words of this entry, besides "armpit", found in Jeremiah 38:12, also have the meaning of "joint ( of the hand)".


    Proto-Semitic, different from Hebrew, is supposed to have had a "waw" as first consonant : "*W TS L", in a word "*watsil". This is based on the fact that both in Aramaic and in Arabic we find two versions. In Aramaic we have either "Aleph TS L" as in Hebrew or "Y TS L" , presumably derived from an older "*W TS L". In Arabic we have two roots : "W(u) TS L" and "Aleph W TS L". Finally Phoenician has only "Y TS L".


    An initial Aleph in Semitic or initial vowel ( especially A) in Indo European occurs frequently has been added to an existing root. But the same goes for an initial W, in both Indo European and Semitic. In this last group it becomes mostly a "Y", whereas in Germanic it continues to exist and from Greek it has disappeared. Seen the fact that in Indo European languages here we have an initial vowel "A", that version will have existed also, together with the others, in Proto-Semitic : "* א צ ל, Aleph TSadi Lamed, A TS L". And probably the other line developed separately, that is from "* ו צ ל, Waw TSadi Lamed, W TS L" into "* י צ ל, Yod TSadi Lamed, Y TS L ".


  • Proto-Germanic. In Germanic languages there are very similar words for the meanings of "axilla" and "shoulder". German "Achsel = shoulder, armpit", but for the second meaning also "Achselhöhle" is used. Old Frisian "axel, axele = shoulder, armpit". Norwegian "aksel= shoulder, armpit", but also "armhole = armpit". Comparable diversifications are seen in Swedish "axel" and Danish "aksel".


    Another differentiation is seen in Old English with "eaxl, eaxle, eaxel= shoulder" and "oxn, ocusta, oxta = armpit". English "oxter= armpit" is mainly dialectal, used in Northern England and Scotland. Dutch has "oksel = armpit" after Middle Dutch with a work in progress: "assel = shoulder, armpit" and "ocsel, ocsele= armpit". A comparable development took place in Old High German, with "ahsla, ahsala = shoulder" and "uohsa, uohsina = armpit" that had no follow-up in modern German.


    We see in the various Germanic languages an opening vowel that is mostly "A", but in Middle Dutch also "O" and in Modern Dutch always "O". The double consonant "KS" or else "CHS" with an earlier "HS" is sometimes but far from always directly followed by the consonant "L". Probably Proto-Germanic had anyway "*A KS e L-".


  • Indo-European. Outside the abovementioned languages we have not too much information, but some is useful.


    Old Indian in "káktsa = armpit" has doubled the "K". Oddly a very similar "káktsā says "girth region" not too far from the anyhow unrelated Latin word "coxa = hip". Further there is a word "aktsagh", but that means "collar bone" and as such seems to be related to Old Norse "ost, ostr" that means the hollow above the clavicle.


    It is even more probable that these Old Indian words are not at all related to "axilla". In fact we see in Sanscrit as principal meaning of the word "káksha" that of "hiding place, lair, thicket, circular wall" and then also "armpit, girth, girdle". "Armpit" seems to be just a secondary meaning. A second word "kakshyá" is documented with meanings "girth, girdle, circular wall, orbit (of a planet)", but not specifically "armpit".


    Avestan with "kasha- = armpit" seems to have doubled as well the "K", before letting the original one disappear. Then "ashaya" says "both shoulders" and supposedly also "*asnut = armpit", comparable to one of the many Old English words, in this case "oxn". Such a "SH" is usually related to an "SKH" or "SGH" in other languages.


    A hypothesis for Indo-European is hard to make, but "*A K S L- is a possible basis for the specialized word for "armpit" that did not live on through the full territory.


    It is less probable that the point of departure was an "*A TS L", that developed through the introduction of gutturals, in Old Indian "kaktsa" in front of the TS", in other groups by substituting the "T". This regretfully remains guesswork. The tendency of Old Indian is the opposite, from K towards sibilants, a development that in this case has not taken place.




Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: 26/09/2012 at 15.53.04