The English Wikipedia article for "cumin" mentions

All of these ultimately derive from Akkadian 𒂵𒈬𒉡 (kamūnu).

In Hungarian, caraway seeds are called köménymag, keménymag where the word "kemény" is said to derive from *kämä (“hard, firm”).

But, as we know, caraway seeds are quite hard. Is this just a strange overlapping of two words deriving from very different roots or is the Proto Uralic word influenced by the Akkadian one?

  • Hi, could you refine (add detail to) the title so that more people understand what the ultimate question is?
    – purlupar
    Nov 5, 2020 at 5:06
  • to the close voters, it is language specific grammar and usage questions that are off-topic, not etymologies. The fact we've got a specific tag for it, and the huge number of questions on this topic that haven't been closed make that clear
    – Tristan
    Nov 5, 2020 at 10:13
  • @purlupar I thought it is clear...? There is a single question in the whole post ...? Not sure what it is missing.
    – chx
    Nov 5, 2020 at 10:59
  • My advice was because I saw many people voted it down, me not included (the opposite is true: I tagged it). You can proceed whichever way you want, I can't help any further.
    – purlupar
    Nov 5, 2020 at 13:22
  • 2
    @curiousdannii True, though this question in particular actually gets at a systemic issue imo ("what does it mean when a Wanderwort is popularly associated with another word in a language" → "almost always a folk etymology"), so I'd leave it open.
    – Draconis
    Nov 7, 2020 at 17:16

2 Answers 2


Just to add a bit to Adam's excellent answer:

"Cumin" is what's called a Wanderwort or wander-word: it's a word associated with some sort of trade good, which spreads from language to language along with the thing it describes. A famous modern example is "tea"; almost every language in the world now refers to the drink with a word that looks like either "tea" or "chai".

This is why the word for "cumin" looks so similar in everything from English to Sumerian (Úgamun). The details of how it spread aren't entirely clear, but Akkadian probably borrowed it from Sumerian, Greek possibly from Akkadian, Latin from Greek, French from Latin, English from French, and so on. And Sumerian likely picked it up from some other language that was never written down and has been lost to the mists of time.

One other trait of Wanderworter, though, is that they don't have a clear etymology in most languages (because they're borrowed as complete, opaque units). So folk etymologies are common, linking the words to other things within the language. That's how kömeny is associated with *kämä. But etymologically, most likely, the name kömeny was borrowed from whichever other people were trading the spice, with no other connections within Uralic.

  • 1
    On the other hand, because of how sound changes work, there's a significant chance that the word and its derivational base would remain recognizably similar, even if both were borrowed but from the same source. The onus of proof, though, lies on the accuser, and there's no obvious way how Sumerian should get it from what would then have been Ugric or even Proto-Uralic. Since the area of Hungary has a history with Huns and Turks, and Turks are literally called Kümmeltürken today in derogitory registers, that's where I would look next.
    – vectory
    Nov 8, 2020 at 17:07
  • BTW, as a word of note, we see various terms retrofit to sacral languages, e.g. in neo-Latin. gamun is attested from the Ur III period onwards, that is ca. 4kya, when Akkadian already too place; attested eight times, in overall three different spellings, of which the older one can be seen there 1. I can make out that the latter one cited above is composed of ga [MILK] and mun [SALT] (as orthographic spelling, surely), but found none for the former, so far, which probably doesn't matter anyway
    – vectory
    Nov 8, 2020 at 17:59

... is said to derive from ...

This is folk etymology. In a case like this, where it's a similar sounding word in many unrelated languages across a region, you should be especially skeptical.

The Wiktionary entry for kömény:

A wanderword, arrived to Hungarian possibly via German, but a West Slavic borrowing cannot be excluded, either. Compare German Kümmel, Greek κύμινο (kýmino), from Latin cuminum, from Ancient Greek κύμινον (kúminon).

It's common enough that a folk etymology or subconscious confusion with known words or native morphemes has a real influence on the pronunciation, spelling or senses of a word - and that may be the case here - but that's a very different than derivation.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.