14 November 2017

Gaulish buððutton 'spindle; penis' (updated)

Gaulish buððutton 'spindle; penis'1 is attested on the spindle whorl Gallo-Latin inscription Moni gnatha gabi buððutton imon 'Come, girl, take my penis'2. The word must have designated the instrument itself and then applied to the male organ in a metaphoric way. 

English button is a loanword from Old French boton (modern bouton) 'bud; button; pimple, spot', itself from Late Latin *buttōne-, usualy regarded as a Germanic borrowing, but IMHO actually from Gaulish, which would be also the source of Germanic *buddōn 'bud'. Basque buztan 'tail; penis' is presumably a Celtic loanword, probably from Gaulish itself.

From this and other Insular Celtic words (Old Irish bot 'penis, tail', Middle Welsh both 'umbo, shield boss'), Matasović reconstructs a Celtic protoform *buzdo- 'tail'3, supposedly derived from IE *gwozdo- (Germanic *kwast(j)ō 'bunch of branches', Albanian gjeth 'leaf, foliage', Slavic *xvost 'tail'4), assuming the original meaning was 'to sprout'.
1 X. Delamarre (2008): Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, p. 92-93. 
2 W. Meid (1994): Gaulish Inscriptions translates the Gaulish word as 'kiss', cfr. bussu- 'lip'.
3 R. Matasović (2009): Etymological dictionary of Proto-Celtic, p. 85-86.
4 However, it seems to be semantics doesn't fit very well, so I'd rather prefer a link to Slavic *gvozdis 'nail', conflated by Vassmer to the former.


  1. Proto-Slavic *gvozdis is not "wood", but "a nail" ("un clou" en français) = Russian гвоздь.
    But the hypothesis is interesting.

  2. Yes, that's right. Apparently, Vassmer also included some Serbo-Croat and Czech forms meaning 'wood'. Possibly Russian xvost 'tail' would be better.