It is well established that the Latin word circus 'circle' is a loanword from Greek κίρκος kírkos 'circle, ring'. But it seems that κίρκος is of uncertain origin. One possibility is that κίρκος would be a loanword or an irregular development related to κύκλος kúklos 'circle' (< Proto-Indo-European *kʷkʷlos 'circle'). What about the posibility that in some Indo-European neighboring Greek (Old Macedonian, Peonian, Thracian, ...) we would have had the development:

(1) pIE *kʷekʷlos > *kʷekʷros > *kʷerkʷos -> κίρκος

Do you see any reason why this highly speculative conjecture could be incorrect at any point?

  • 5
    Why it could be incorrect? Sure, it could be incorrect if this hypothetical language didn't have *kʷ > /k/. Or if it didn't have *l > /r/, etc etc. The more relevant question might be, is there any evidence for this? For example, do we see a pattern of words that show similar sound changes that could have been loaned from the same source?
    – Draconis
    Feb 27, 2022 at 18:30
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    to add to Draconis' comment, when proposing a solution, the burden of proof is not on everyone else to show why it might be false, but on the person making the hypothesis who needs to show that it provides a better explanation than the alternative (in this case a borrowing from an unknown substrate)
    – Tristan
    Feb 28, 2022 at 10:08

1 Answer 1


It's obviously impossible to disprove an etymology based on an unknown language, but here are some things to note:

  1. The Greek word in question (assuming it's one word -- the range of meanings is very broad) has two forms, κίρκος and κρίκος. The meaning "circle" or "racecourse" appears to be late; Chantraine (in his etymological dictionary of Greek) suggests that, though Lat. circus itself is probably a borrowing of this Greek word, the "circle" meaning developed in Latin and was then re-borrowed into Greek.

  2. Chantraine and Beekes both think the earlier form was κρίκος. If so, that would necessitate one additional metathesis in your etymology, or else a different derivation like *kʷekʷros > *kʷrekʷos.

  3. Based on the meanings of the reflexes, PIE *kʷekʷlos is AFAIK generally thought to have meant specifically "wheel" rather than "circle". But of course the semantic development "wheel > circle" is easy (it seems to have happened with Greek κύκλος).

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