08 November 2010

A bad purchase

Latin emō 'to buy' is an output of IE *H1em- 'to take, to distribute', a root also found in Celtic and Balto-Slavic. The "laryngeal" *H1 is reconstructed to account for initial i- in Balto-Slavic (Lithuanian imù, Old Church Slavonic im). However, given its scarce attestation, the likelihood of this being a non-native IE root is high.

In his own blog, Glen Gordon proposes this root to be a recent (early 1st millennium BCE) borrowing from a supposed Etrusco-Rhaetic [sic] verb *em 'to take', which apparently appears as -em in Etruscan numerals like ci-em zaθrum '17', literally '3 from 20', much like Latin duo-de-viginti '18', lit. '2 from 20'. 

Unfortunately, Gordon confuses what is clearly a postposition with a verb, and for making his point stronger, he notices two instances of the presumed past form *em-e in the scriptio continua nacemeuruiθalθileniθaliχememesnamertanśinamulu (TLE 366). Unfortunately, he doesn't give us a proper segmentation of the whole inscription.

Given the inadequacy of this proposal, we must find a better one. A Vasco-Caucasian loanword from PNC *HVqqVn- (˜ -m-) 'to take, to snatch', which gives Basque k(h)en-du 'to take away; to ask for a price' (Bengtson) and also Etruscan cen- 'to get, to buy', whose participle cen-u 'got, bought' is found in some inscriptions (Perugia Cippus, Tabula Cortonensis), seems likely.

A note to readers (caveat emptor): don't buy crackpot theories.