Pol. kobieta

From: Miguel Carrasquer
Message: 17417
Date: 2003-01-06

Just back from Poland, where I picked up an article by Katarzyna
Dl/ugosz (Acta Univ. Wratislaviensis 2336), entitled "Kobieta, dama,
baba... -- ewolucja znaczenia nazw osób pl/ci z.en'skiej".

Part of the article is of course devoted to etymology of the Polish
word <kobieta> "woman", which replaced <niewiasta>, which replaced

A short summary of that part of the article:

The word <kobieta> is found for the first time around 1550 in the work
of Marcin Bielski, where it clearly has pejorative meaning:

Me,z.e nas zowa, bial/ogl/owy, prza,dki,
Ku wie,kszemu zelz.eniu kobietami zowa,.

(The men call us white-heads, knitsters,
To add insult they call us <kobiety>)

Brückner's etymological dictionary explains the word as a combination
of <kobyl/a> "mare" or <kob> "stall, (pig)sty" with a suffix -(i)eta
abstracted from female names such as Bieta, Elz.bieta, Greta,

Franciszek Sl/awski's etymological dictionary suggests that as the
word seems to have originated in 16th century city speech, the origin
should in the first place be sought in the German language.

V. Machek compares old German <gabette> "bed-fellow, concubine, wife".

Another German source that has been suggested is <kebse>, <kebsweib>
"concubine". Rozwadowski has suggested a link with Finnish <kave>
"woman, mother" or Estonian <kabe>, G. <kabeda> "woman, lady". Czech
<kubena> "concubine" has been suggested by Ciszewski.

J.J. Mikkola, based on Polabian <tijaba>, <tjaba>, <tyába> "ghost" has
reconstructed a pre-Polish *kobItU "ghost, spirit, person".

Z.ebrowski thinks of a verb *kobiti "foretell the future (from the
flight of birds)", while Iljin'ski sees a combination somehow of *kobI
"soothsaying" with <szczebiot> "bird's chatter". More soothsaying
from J. L/osia, who suggests *kobIveta from *kobI and *vetiti "speak".
H. Ul/aszyn also sees a link with the root *kob- (Eng. hap, OCS kobI
"Genius, Schutzgeist" and aforementioned *kobI "soothsaying based on
the flight of birds").

J. Otre,bski's 1948 explantion is *kojbita from *kojba, nomen actionis
from the verb kojiti "to breastfeed".

To all of this I can add A. Ban'kowski's explanation in his recent
etymological dictionary, where the word is traced back to ca. 1545 in
a rhyme by Mateusz z Ke,t ("Przysta,p' sie do kobiéty, be,dziesz
ciepl/ na trzy zbyty", a free translation of Terentius' "Accede ad
ignem hunc, jam calesces plus satis"). Ban'kowski rightly states that
the word can hardly be native because of the lack of przegl/os before
<t> (*-et- should have given -iot-, while *-e^t- should have given
-iat-; leaving only *-It- as a possibility). Because of the apparent
origin of the word in city speech, and more specifically in Cracovian
slang [since that's where Mateusz studied], Ban'kowski suggests a
German etymon *kob-jeit, *kob(e)-geit, composed of kob(e) "stall, sty"
and Low German geit, jeit "goat".

I agree that the evidence favours an origin in 16th c. city slang
(borrowed from some foreign source) rather than an Old Slavic word for
ghost, feedster or sorceress, even if we forget about the phonetical
and word-formational problems that plague all such suggestions.

It is however difficult to come up with a convincing German etymology,
which may be simply because the word <kobieta> doesn't really sound
German at all. If the word is indeed Cracovian, and recalling the
Renaissance style of that city's architecture, and the Italian
influence, especially after 1530 when Bona Sforza married Zygmunt I
Jagiello, why not look for an Italian origin of the word?

The word <coppietta> means "a couple" (usually a couple of young
lovers, which doesn't quite suit the meaning "woman" nor its original
pejorative undertone, but well, there are other things that come in
pairs, e.g. in female anatomy). Perhaps more promising (also from a
phonetical point of view) is the word <copia> (dim. <copietta>) which
is given as:

1 (lett.) grande quantità, abbondanza: vennero servitori, con gran
copia di rinfreschi (MANZONI P. S. IV)

2 (ant.) facoltà, opportunità, occasione: avendo copia di vedere assai
spesso la sua donna (BOCCACCIO Dec. VII, 8) | avere copia di qualcuno,
poterne disporre | fare copia di qualcosa, concederne l'uso.

Does anyone have any insight in 16th. century Milanese (?) slang words
for "woman"?

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal