I was wondering why Thai word for "snow" was sounding similar to Slavic word for "winter":

Thai: หิมะ [hì-má] "snow"
Ukrainian: зима [ˈzɪ-mə] "winter"
Polish: zima [ˈʑi-ma] "winter"

Also, "Himalaya" हिमालय [himā-laya] is commonly referred as "abode of the snow": हिम [himā] + आलय [ā-laya].

Looking in M.Vasmer's "Etymological dictionary of Russian language", I found that Proto-Slavic *zīmā is related to Ancient Greek χεῖμών. Also, the Latin word for "winter" is hiems.

Despite it seems evident that Slavic word is originated from PIE, I found no sources to cite. So my question is: is it true that Slavic "zima" derived from PIE words for "snow"?

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    In the USA there used to be a clear, sparkling alcoholic beverage named "Zima", meant to be drunk cold, that used ice and mountains in its advertising. As a Polish speaker this used to amuse me no end. Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 22:00
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    "Zima" means also "cold". E.g. "It's cold outside" is "Venku je zima" in Czech or "Vonku je zima" in Slovak.
    – Derfder
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 20:58
  • Zima is not derived from Greek! It is a native Slavic word.
    – Anixx
    Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 20:48
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    I'm sure I've heard the phrase zime piwo from an American of Polish ancestry. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 8:46

3 Answers 3


Pokorny Etymon 632 gives:

  • *g̑hei-/*g̑hi- 'snow; winter' > ON gamall 'old' L hiems 'winter', Gk χειμών kheimon 'storm, winter'

(Note that he implies but does not explicitly include the resultative suffix ****-(é)mn̥-** which leads to the complete forms shown.)

Pokorny does not list a Slavic reflex, but Derksen 2008 gives žiēmą ‘winter’ < *ǵheim

So per Pokorny this semantic field includes both snow and winter (and Derksen concurs) and so the meaning diverged in daughter languages.

(Note there there is also Pokorny Etymon *sneigu̯h- 'to snow; snow' > Eng snow L nivis 'snow' OCS снѣгѵ snĕgŭ 'snow' Gk νῐφάς niphas 'snow, flake' Pra 'siṇeha' 'snow' which is apparently unrelated, although I suppose it could be.)

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    Could you clarify what language Pkt means? That's an abbreviation I do not know. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 8:44
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    @Wilson I meant Prakrit, but I used the wrong abbreviation. Thanks for catching that. Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 12:52

Wiktionary gives Thai hima as having Sanskrit origin, which is directly cognate to the Slavic reflex. See this appendix for more reflexes. "Himalaya" also comes directly from Sanskrit (see that wiktionary entry). So yes, the Sanskrit reflex is squarely Indo-European.

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    Thank you 火星文. Yes, Thai word for "snow" has certainly derived from Sanskrit, but how do I prove that Proto-Slavic word for "winter" has the same origin? Formally, they are two different words. Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 19:01
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    Fascinating that 'zima' and 'Himalaya' actually have a common etymology! Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 21:57
  • @MarkBeadles Very this fact has inspired me to research. Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 22:03

I can't offer a proof, but for what it's worth, one of the standard Croatian dictionaries, Anić's Rječnik hrvatskoga jezika, gives the following etymology for Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian "zima":

prasl. i stsl. [proto-Slavic and Old Church Slavonic] zima (rus. [Russian] zimá, polj. [Polish] zima), lit. [Lithuanian] žiema ← ie. [Proto-Indo-European] *g'heym- (lat. [Latin] hiems, grč. [Classical Greek] kheȋma)"

I'm sure that any of the standard (etymological) dictionaries of any of the Slavic languages will give the same etymology.


As for the Thai, as Huoxingwen pointed out above, Wiktionary (insofar as it's to be believed) states that it's a Sanskrit loan, where the Sanskrit original is a reflex of our old friend *g'heym-. So, to cut a long story short, the Thai word for snow seems to be a loan from Sanskrit, and the Slavic word for winter and the Sanskrit word for snow both stem from the PIE root *g'heym-.

  • Thank you for your answer. It seems to be correct about "winter", but how is it connected to "snow"? Commented Jan 1, 2013 at 4:13
  • I guess it's only connected to "snow" insofar as PIE *g'heym- is connected to "snow" in some other Indo-European branch---the main Slavic root for "snow," which has already been mentioned above, comes from the PIE root *snoygwhos. Commented Jan 1, 2013 at 22:33
  • You've offered nothing regarding the most intriguing aspect of OP's question, which is about Thai. Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 4:20
  • @HStephenStraight I've added onto my answer, and it turns out to be nothing exciting---the Thai word is just a loan from Sanskrit, which is the very model of an Indo-European classical language... Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 8:10
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    The Slavic word for winter is zima, the Sanskrit word for snow (which was borrowed into Thai as its word for snow) is himaṃ, and they both come from the PIE root *g'heym-; in particular, zima is not a borrowing into Slavic from Sanskrit, but is simply a cognate of himaṃ. Wictionary also suggests that himaṃ can mean "winter" in Sanskrit, but there's no such suggestion for the Thai hima. What exactly are you asking here? Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 8:58

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