Archimedes famously proclaimed Eureka, I have found it, but should the word itself proclaim I have lost my H?

According to wiktionary and wikipedia, Eureka simply comes from the greek εὕρηκα, perfect active indicative of εὑρίσκω, to find. While εὑρίσκω led to words such as heuristics with an h, εὕρηκα was transliterated without the h. Can we claim that writing Eureka is actually not correct, and should have an H?

I vaguely remember that the the "accent" on εὕ suggests that the transliteration of the word should start with a h (as for heuristics) to convey the aspirated sound, but this is just a vague memory and I could not find a more precise discussion on this.

Edit: I should have added that this is not specific to English, the wiktionary mentions that the version without H is also found in French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish, whiloe Czech, Slovak and Hungarian use the H, portuguese apparently being the only one with the two versions.

  • I upvoted this question, and nothing against it. But why not migrate this to Latin SE? – NNOX Apps Sep 8 '20 at 22:16

Indeed, the Ancient Greek word εὕρηκα would be transcribed heurēka, with an H. The mark that looks like an apostrophe (the "rough breathing" or "spiritus asper") indicates the H sound.

However, the word came to English through Latin, which is why it's pronounced with the accent on the second syllable instead of the first (as in Greek). And the letter H was rather unstable in Latin from Classical times onward, which is why we have an H in words like "hallucinate" (from Latin alucinātus) and no H in words like "arena" (from Latin harēna): later Latin-speakers weren't sure if there was supposed to be an H in those words or not, so variants like hallucinātus and arēna were common.

So it's not too surprising that the H in (h)eureka didn't make it into English. At this point, though, the word has taken on a life of its own in English, and is best known without the H—so I would say it's just as correct as "arena" is (that is, completely correct). It's common for words to change slightly as they're borrowed between languages, and the H in heurēka was just another casualty of this process.

(P.S. Ancient Greek also lost its H sound somewhere in the first few centuries BCE, around the same time Latin did or slightly earlier; Modern Greek speakers now pronounce the word as vríka or évrika.)

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    I doubt this has to do with the status of /h/ in Latin -- (h)eureka would always have been a learned word, unlike e.g. (h)arena, and I'm not sure it's exactly right to say that the word comes to English through Latin at all. The source of the Archimedes story is Vitruvius, who quoted the Greek word in his Latin text, but would not have written diacritics; that's a possible explanation, as is contamination by the many words in eu- "well". Both explanations were proposed in this Language Hat thread on the question: languagehat.com/heureka – TKR Sep 7 '20 at 23:24
  • Arena etymologically (presumably) had an h, but forms without it appear to have been in fairly free variation more or less since the beginning even before psilosis (unlike words like hōra and herba) so I’m not sure it’s a very good example here. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 8 '20 at 0:03
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    In Germany, it's still usually 'Heureka!'. I assume it varies from country to country whether the 'H' is included. See de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heureka, which mentions a famous usage of Gauss in the written, using 'ΕΥΡΗΚΑ', hence not using the 'H'. – Joseph Doob Sep 8 '20 at 5:37
  • @JosephDoob In many languages it is so fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/heureka fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/heur%C3%A9ka (for some reason, there is much more in the French wiktionary than in the English one) – Vladimir F Sep 8 '20 at 13:53
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    @JosephDoob In mainstream Greek (from ~400 BCE onwards), the "H" sound isn't written with a letter, so Gauss's spelling is the standard one. (Sometimes scribes would use the apostrophe-shaped mark on top, but that wasn't universal.) But that's a good point about different languages! – Draconis Sep 8 '20 at 17:01

just wanted to share some images

  1. One of the first attested uses in an English text:

enter image description here

Source: Euclid, Henry Billingsley, John Dee, François De Foix Candale, John Day, and English Printing Collection. The elements of geometrie of the most auncient philosopher Evclide of Megara. Imprinted at London: By Iohn Daye, 1570. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/03020856/.

  1. One of the first attested uses in an Italian text:

enter image description here

and in the comments written by Cesare Cesariano, where you can also see a Latinized form, "Eurica":

enter image description here

Source: Di Lucio Vitruvio Pollione De architectura Libri Dece traducti de latino in vulgare affigurati: commentati: & con mirando ordine insigniti ... (described as the "First translation into Italian from the Latin with commentary and illustrations, by Cesare Cesariano"), 1521

Note: in educated/standard Italian, it is usually èureka, although Treccani adds "/'ɛureka/, più com. ma non corretto /eu'rɛka/."

  1. If someone could find it in the first (?) German translation, I'd really appreciate it (feel free to add the relevant image in my post):

"Vitruvius Teutsch nembliuchen des allern namhafftigsten und hocherfarnesten römischen architecti und kunstereichen werck oder bawmeisters, Marci Vitruvij Pollionis zehen bucher von der architectur und künstleichen bawen" (described in the Met catalog as "Translated and edited by Gualther Hermenius Rivius (German, ca. 1500–after 1545)" 1548

  • Do you understand the diacritics in the first Italian-text example? It looks like they're different between the two repeated words, but I can't make sense of them. – TKR Sep 8 '20 at 23:52
  • @TKR I think it seems to say "εὕρηκα εὕρῆκά" [sic!] - I'll try to find a better scan to confirm. – Alex B. Sep 9 '20 at 0:41
  • I think the only (?) attestation of εὕρηκά in the TLG is 7. CHARITON Scr. Erot. De Chaerea et Callirhoe {0554.001} Book 3 chapter 6 section 7 line 3 κομίσασθαι καὶ τοῖς λύτροις ἐπίστευον ὅτι πείσω τὸν ἀγοράσαντα· νῦν δὲ εὕρηκά σε πλουσίαν, τάχα καὶ βασιλίδα. πόσῳ δ’ ἂν εὐτυχέστερος ὑπῆρχον, εἴ σε <πτωχ>εύουσαν εὑρήκειν. εἴπω Διονυσίῳ - and I have no idea how to interpret this. – Alex B. Sep 9 '20 at 0:45
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    I see a few later hits from Christian authors, and of course there are more if you search for non-1sg forms and/or prefixed forms. Some authors seem to have preferred the form with temporal augment, ηὕρηκα. – TKR Sep 9 '20 at 2:14
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    The German version translates "(H)eureka" to "Ich hab es funden" (I have found it; modern German would use "gefunden" instead of "funden"). See digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/vitruvius1548/0571, lines 13/14. As a German, I can confirm we usually use "Heureka". – Guntram Blohm Sep 9 '20 at 9:03

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