Some Ancient Egyptian Words

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Some Ancient Egyptian Words

Postby Almatolmen » Tue Aug 10, 2004 10:49 am


I was browsing through my reprint of Budge's An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary (1920), when it occurred to me that some of you might be interested in the words that the Ancient Egyptians used for those things we closely associate with ancient Egypt. So I went through that volume and selected the items seen below. A couple of cautions: this is a work of scholarship nearly 85 years old--it is possible (and I hope actual) that there have been advances in the field since the original publication that may make some of my entries obsolete; in addition, the knowledge of scholars then, and as far as I know, in the present of Ancient Egyptian vocalism is, to say the least, imperfect. Especially when one sees an 'e', take it with a large grain of salt. In instances where we have Coptic reflexes of the same or related words, even when allowing for some sound changes in this later form of the language, we often see an ‘o’ or other vowels where the conventions of Egyptologists insert the 'neutral' 'e'.

I don't have a font that allows me to reproduce the diacritical marks used by Budge, so where he has vowels with macrons or dots above them, I place a '_' or '.' after it; where he places a dot under a consonant, I put a '.' before it, as in the heading 'met-.t.'

In one instance, I have given a modern thing a plausible ancient name: the Aswan Dam.

EGYPT: Kam 'Black'; Ba-ti 'Two Lands'; Beq 'Eye of the Sun'; Qebh 'Cool Water/Refreshment'; Ta-mera 'Flood Land'

NILE: Ha_p (also a name given to the god of the Nile)

NILE-FLOOD: temi; .he.h/.he.hi; .hait, urmu, A.kob

DELTA: Me.h-t 'North-land'; "Fen-district'; Uatchit 'Green Land'

ALEXANDRIA: Rakoti 'Mouth/Door/Gate Town/Circle'; Seb.ti 'Walled Fortress/Citadel' (the first designation seems to refer to the settlement on the site before the Hellenistic city was constructed, and the second to that later city).

LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA: Seb.ti Per-metcha 'house of written rolls'

LIGHT-HOUSE OF ALEXANDRIA: Seb.ti A.n 'light-tower'

SUEZ CANAL: Kamur-ma 'Black Lake Canal' (a name give to an ancient canal that runs parallel to the modern one from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea--called Black Lake, or possible Egypt Lake)

CAIRO: Khera.ha_ 'Lower Fortress'

ASWAN DAM: Suan-merit 'South Bend Dam'

GREAT OASIS: Uakh-t 'Blooming/Flourishing'

KARNAKH: 'Temple' (Amon-Ra, Thebes)

MEDITERRANEAN SEA: Uatch-ur 'Great Green Water'

SINAI: Mefakit 'Turquoise/Emerald Land'

VALLEY OF THE KINGS: A.n-tt .Heritt 'Valley of the Hewn Hill-Tombs'


PYRAMID OF KHUFU: A.akhu-t Khufu 'Horizon of Khufu' (the Dictionary shows that most pyramids had their own names, like ships. The 'horizon' of Khufu's implies the western horizon and connotes the land of the dead and thus a tomb)

pyramid: mer

mummy: shet-t; sa_.h 'noble, free'

mummy swathings:

mummy chamber: qeres; shta-t 'secret chamber, tomb'

coffin (wooden)/ sarcophagus (stone): hen

BOOK OF THE DEAD: Per en hru "Coming forth by day' (the opening line of the book used as a title by the ancients)

curse: pekh 'curse, spell, imprecation, incantation'; .henbab 'to curse, to anathemize, to exorcise" (while there are no curses as seen in popular fiction and films, the association is so often made, that I included these words anyway)

obelisk: .tekhenu

Pharaoh: Per-aa 'Great House'

scarab: a.a_bb

Rising of Sirius: Per-t Sep.t-t 'Coming Forth/ Appearance of Sirius "Star of Preparation"' (this astronomical event anticipated the annual inundation of the Nile, which marked the New Year, and which was celebrated with a major festival)

hieroglyphics: me.tut neter 'words of the god (Thoth-inventor of writing)

cartouche: mensh 'cord, tie' (synonym of words meaning 'cermonial fillet' and 'to confer an honor')

If you have other words you'd like me to search for and add to this list, please tell me.
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Postby wilko185 » Wed Aug 11, 2004 1:34 pm

I know nothing about Egyptian, but looks a nice intro.

Looking through the list, I thought Cairo - Khera.ha_ might actually be a word that has been retained from the original Egyptian. But apparently not, Cairo is from an Arabic name for one of four closely-grouped cities on the same site. However, "pharaoh" seems to be an original word. From

Pharaoh Middle English Pharao, from Late Latin Phara, from Greek, from Hebrew par‘, from Egyptian pr-‘’ : pr, house + ‘’, great.]

Are there many Egyptian words thought to be still in use, apart from proper names? Here's a couple more from, though there are more (usually via Greek):

behemoth \Be"he*moth\, n. [Heb. behem[=o]th, fr. Egyptian P-ehe-maut hippopotamus.] An animal, probably the hippopotamus, described in --Job xl. 15-24.

ivory Middle English ivorie, from Old French ivoire, ivurie, from Latin eboreus, of ivory, from ebur, ebor-, ivory, from Coptic ebou, elephant, from Egyptian ’bw
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Postby Eluchil » Wed Aug 11, 2004 4:37 pm

wilko185 wrote:Are there many Egyptian words thought to be still in use, apart from proper names?

Egyptian had not yet (quite) become a dead language. Its lineal descendent, Coptic, is still used as the liturgical language of the indigenous Christian Church. As for Egyptian words in English there can't be many. Most, like the ones you mentioned, probably were borrowed into Hebrew (a related tongue) and then come to English through the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament.
Last edited by Eluchil on Fri Aug 13, 2004 5:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby LEGOLAS_ESTELSTAR » Fri Aug 13, 2004 2:40 pm

isnt black 'kemet'?
anyhow, thanks for starting this,im inlove with egypttian civilization and culture. ill keep coming.
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Postby Almatolmen » Tue Aug 17, 2004 7:39 am

"Cairo: a corruption of the Arabic Al-kahirah, "the victorious," so called because Kahir (Mars), the planet of victory, was visible on the night when the city was founded."

I wonder, though, if it isn't too much of a coincidence that the ancient name for the site is so similar to the later one? MIght it be an instance of a deliberate transformation, or of a folk-etymolgization?

When I looked in the index of Budge for the various names that were given to Egypt, I also expected a form like Kemet, due to the name of the magazine KMT. However, while there were a number of 'kam' and 'kem' words associated with blackness that end with a -t, none meant "The Black Land" ('land' being a common meaning assigned to -t) or were defined as 'Egypt'.
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