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The Malay/Indonesian word for salt garam is surprisingly similar to the Latin word for the Roman fish sauce garum.

Since garum was made from fermented salted fish, is there an etymological connection between the two words?

The book The Fisheries of the Oriental Region claims this to be a "strange coincidence" without providing any further information, and I am unable to find any other sources pertaining to this matter.

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    I asked the question as I am interested in seeing if there are other potential linguistic routes which the authors of the book overlooked. Is this supposed to be an unwelcome type of question? – March Ho Jul 16 at 16:09
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    It's probably more unwelcome than it should be due to one particular person who pesters this group with absurd etymology questions, and keeps getting new accounts to do it. The question seems okay to me as far as this type of question goes... although it's usually hard to answer anything but "it seems to be a coincidence, and these are common". – LjL Jul 17 at 1:28
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    Incidentally though, people really should stop bandwagon-flagging questions under "language-specific grammar and usage questions" when they are anything but. If you think it should be closed, state a reason that makes sense. That person who keeps asking about Bible-related etymologies is not a good reason to mindlessly flag anything that seems to involve unlikely etymologies as something that it isn't. – LjL Jul 17 at 2:31
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The Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database indicates that the Malay term was originally garam sira 'grain of salt', and sira and similar forms are widely attested for 'salt' at proto-levels in various subgroups (Blust reconstructs *qasiʀa for Proto-Austronesian). I think this makes a Latin origin more than unlikely.

  • But "grain" itself looks like a "g-r" type root too, and that's no coincidence, since it comes from Latin granum, again not so dissimilar from garam! The plot thickens... – LjL Jul 17 at 1:36
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What more is there to say? It's a coincidence, to the best of our knowledge, and statistically not an unlikely one.

Garum comes from Greek γάρος; its etymology is unknown, but the Greek word in the nominative already looks quite different from garam just by virtue of its inflection. The chances of being able to find two unrelated languages where the syllable "gar" happens to be part of words with loosely relatable meanings, but without an etymological connection, seem high.

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I don't think this is really a bad question - food terms can be the sort of words that can travel readily between languages (Wanderwörter). Consider ketchup, sugar, ginger, tea.

In this case, though, the relation between L garum and May garam does seem to be a coincidence. Or at least, there is no recognized etymology which connects them that I can find.


Anecdotally, I will note that there is another word which is nearly homonymous with the others, and which also refers to a type of seasoning: Hindi गरम garam, which means "hot" and is often used in the sense of "spicy" (e.g. the popular spice blend garam masala). But this garam is said to derive < PIE *gʷʰer-, so it's likely yet another coincidence.

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