The Brown Beaver

From: x99lynx@...
Message: 15197
Date: 2002-09-06

<<I wonder, quite seriously, if the PIE 'beaver' word is really derived from
a term for 'brown', as generally assumed. Why the reduplication? Why not
*bHebHru- < *bHe-bHrh1-u- 'splasher', not unlike *kWekWlo- from *kWelh1-?>>

I wonder - since about two thirds of all fur bearers (along with eagles and
deer) are brown-colored - why most animals aren't just called brown in IE

I think a basic logic dictates that a color word would come from a concrete
object and then is generalized to other objects. I believe Berlin and Kay
listed the Homeric Greeks as having only three "basic" color words. But the
truth is probably that there was no abstract concept of color independent
from dyes or specific objects in Homeric Greek. Do colors ever appear as
nouns? Was there a word for "color" in Homer?

There really is no evidence for abstracted colors before maybe Plato and
probably much later. Color -- separate from an object, a "skin" or a dye
--is a relatively modern idea. The idea that the bear or beaver word came
from the color brown is pure anachronism. Brown started as a reference to
some specific physical objects (or a dye derived from something) and was
generalized to the description of other objects. There would be no color
swatches or colormetrics labeled "brown" acting as a intermediary.

As far as such wild animals as bears and beavers, it seems probable that most
people had more everyday contact with them as skins and furs than as living
animals. If anything we might presume that brown got its name from a
particular kind of skin than the other way around.

Steve Long