Buddha, eBay, & ombudsmen

My wife and I will soon be wat-eyed and pad-tied on our upcoming trip to Cambodia and Thailand. In preparing for these trips, I consulted the cultural, the cartographic, the culinary, the commercial, the communicational–and, of main concern here at the Mashed Radish, the cognates.

Thailand predominantly practices Buddhism, as you probably well know. The religion is founded in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, later dubbed the Buddha when he achieved enlightenment. As is often cited, Buddha means “awakened” or “enlightened” in Sanskrit. Now, online auctions and official complaints sure sound like a far cry from spiritual knowledge, but their etymological connections prove pretty enlightening.

"Buddha." Doodle by @andrescalo.
“Buddha.” Doodle by @andrescalo.

Buddha

In Sanskrit, buddha (बुद्ध) means “awakened” and “enlightened,” formed from the verb budh, “to know” or “perceive.” Historical linguists root this verb in the Proto-Indo-European *bheudh-, “to pay attention” or “be observant,” as glossed by the Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World.

As inscrutable as Sanskrit can seem, buddha is linguistically reincarnate in some very familiar English friends: bid and bode. Now, bid is a busy word in English. The bid related to Buddha is not the one we see in the phrase bid farewell; this bid has a different origin. Rather, the bid at hand might be the bid you make by raising your hand at an auction or when playing your hand in a game of Spades.

Bid and bode

Originally meaning “to offer” or “to proclaim,” we can trace this bid to the Old English béodan, which we have early evidence for in Old English. The Germanic base of this béodan has meanings of “to stretch out” and “present,” which were extended to “to communicate” and “inform,” hence the evolution of the English sense of “offer” and “proclaim.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the past tense of béodanboden, created the Old English boda, a “messenger.” Boda delivered the verb bodian, producing today’s bode, as in it doesn’t bode well.  With bid we get forbid; bode, forebode. Both feature the complicated prefix forwhich means “against” in forbid but “ahead of” in forebode.

Ombudsperson

The Old English béodan yielded bydel, a “herald” or “messenger.” This word evolved into beadle, a minor church official or ceremonial mace-bearer. Another kind of official also shares a root with bid and Buddha: the ombudsman

In Swedish, an ombudsman was an official appointed by parliament to investigate complaints of governmental maladminstration (OED). Other European governments adopted the position–and the word–in the 20th century. The word was taken up more generally in organizations by the 1970s. Carrying the sense of “commission man” in Swedish, ombudsman is related to the Old Norse umboðsmaðrUm– around,” is connected to the prefix ambi, while maðr, “man,” is connected to “man.” The core of the word, boð, “order, command, offer,” is the cognate to our roots of interest here.

The enlightenment etymology affords us by no means helps us attain nirvana, but such a connection as unites Buddhabidbode, and ombudsman can feel pretty transcendent to this word nerd.

The Mashed Radish will be back at it in April. In the meantime, make a point to explore the official languages of Thailand and Cambodia. They are rich, complex, multilayered, and fascinating. Sanskrit and Pali have left quite the footprint in them, especially in terms of their vocabulary and scripts.

m ∫ r ∫ 

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6 thoughts on “Buddha, eBay, & ombudsmen

    1. The Dutch language is a resplendent language. English owes much to the Dutch, if the closeness of the two tongues means I don’t spell out many connections. Many English frequentative forms come directly from the Dutch, and who doesn’t love a good frequentative?

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  1. We can probably take a further sidetrack with “Buddha”, ” the awakened one” also this can signify “the aroused one”. Likewise a “bud” is the incipient part of a plant ready to grow or be awoken into the branch of a plant. Allied we have the french “buttoner” – to push through (again probably with a growth connotation), ( from which we get “button”) it is now but a short step to “buttress” – to push against and if we go back again a small bit we have the Old Irish “bot” modern Irish “bod” pronounced “bud” – penis – you can see where all this is going! Continuing it is easy to get to “puc” Irish for goat, “buck” as in deer ( both in the ” push against” sense and even to ” Buddy” (as in : can you spare a dime?) The latter in the more robust sense. More difficult to justify is “bubo” Latin owl – but I like the idea of it been derived from “the awakened one”

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