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I am told the proto-Indo-European root for the modern 'comma' is 'kop', and that is the root for 'hatchet' or 'axe' as well. True?

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    Are you asking whether comma, hatchet and axe all come from the same PIE root? If so, the answer is no. Comma and hatchet are both ultimately from the root *(s)kop- meaning ‘strike, beat, cut [down]’, but axe is from a different root. Comma and hatchet are also very different formations and went through entirely different languages on their long way to Modern English. Feb 11, 2023 at 0:16
  • Thanks so much, on the mark since the PIE link between comma - hatchet is part of a poetic analysis. Repeating comment X 2 if that is ok, as a slight difference between them. To clarify, the claim can be made that comma and hatchet share the same ultimate root - "Comma and hatchet are both ultimately from the root *(s)kop- meaning ‘strike, beat, cut [down]". However, another response, while confirming (with some reservations) the root connection, state that both share "the PIE root *(s)kep-" My question is, if I were writing a paper, do I state *(s)kop- or *(s)kep- as the shared root? Feb 12, 2023 at 14:27
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    Sorry, that was me not thinking. The root would be *(s)kep- – the form *(s)kop- would the o-grade in ablaut, which happens to be the ablaut grade found in the formations that both comma and hatchet ultimately go back to. Feb 12, 2023 at 17:13
  • @ Janus Bahs Jacquet many thanks, very helpful Feb 12, 2023 at 23:11
  • Based on Piedmontese apia (hatchet) and Corsican piola, the German cognate must be Beil "axe, -blade" rather than Hippe (kind of knife). See also πέλεκυς. Maybe I can incorporate this into an answer though it's difficult to say that a relation is impossible. Maybe Harald Bijlm. knows more about it, haha.
    – vectory
    Feb 14, 2023 at 4:06

2 Answers 2

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Comma is borrowed from Latin comma 'comma; caesura', which is from Greek κόμμα 'stamp; cut-off; short clause', which is a noun formed from the verb κόπτω 'to strike, beat' + the deverbal suffix -μα. The underlying form is *κόπ(τ)μα, but the consonant cluster -πτμ/πμ- isn't phonotactically permissible, so it gets reduced to -μμ-. κόπτω is usually etymologised to go back to the PIE root *(s)kep- 'to strike, beat', here in the o-grade and without s-mobile (though Beekes inevitably suggests it could be Pre-Greek instead; there's no reason to believe that's true).

Hatchet is borrowed from Old French hachete, the diminutive of hache 'axe', which apparently continues Vulgar Latin *happia (unattested), itself taken to be borrowed from Frankish or Proto-West-Germanic *happjā < Proto-Germanic **hā̆bjǭ, which, yes, could also reflect the PIE root *(s)kep- (also in the o-grade and without s-mobile) + some noun-forming suffix: PIE *o becomes Proto-Germanic *a, Grimm's law turns *k into *h, and presumably Verner's law turns *p into *b. Things are on shakier ground here because fewer intermediate stages are preserved and the languages involved have more complex (and lossier) phonological histories; Kroonen doesn't mention any variant of this supposed Germanic word in his etymological dictionary.

Axe is a completely separate deal, going back to Proto-Germanic *akwesī-, whose further etymology is unknown. A PIE-like preform *h₂egʷesih₂- can be constructed, but the presumably related Latin ascia (< *h₂eskieh₂?) and Greek ἀξίνη (< *h₂egʷsineh₂?) cannot easily be reconciled with it, so it's usually taken to be a Wanderwort (compare also Akkadian ḫaṣṣinnum, Aramaic ḥaṣīnā). Some people have tried to connect it to PIE *h₂eḱ- 'sharp' (as in Latin ācer), but there's no reasonable way to make that work.

But yes, it's possible comma and hatchet share a PIE root meaning 'to strike', and the semantic connection is Greek's development of 'a punchy thing' to 'a punchy rhetorical clause', which Latin then turned into 'a thing separating clauses'.

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    hā̆bjǭ is similar to Russian kopyo "spear" and Proto-Slavic *kopьje, ultimately from the same root.
    – Anixx
    Feb 12, 2023 at 8:20
  • I always thought that in PIE axe was "h₂eḱsom" or "teḱsom" (h₂ and t often alternate).
    – Anixx
    Feb 12, 2023 at 8:25
  • Thanks so much, on the mark since the PIE link between comma - hatchet is part of a poetic analysis. Repeating comment X 2 if that is ok, as a slight difference between them. To clarify, the claim can be made that comma and hatchet share the same ultimate root - "Comma and hatchet are both ultimately from the root *(s)kop- meaning ‘strike, beat, cut [down]". However, another response, while confirming (with some reservations) the root connection, state that both share "the PIE root *(s)kep-" My question is, if I were writing a paper, do I state *(s)kop- or *(s)kep- as the shared root? Feb 12, 2023 at 14:26
  • @TheClearVoice The citation form of PIE roots is conventionally the e-grade, so *(s)kep-. (Though the actual form the root takes in both cases is obviously *kop-.)
    – Cairnarvon
    Feb 12, 2023 at 15:07
  • @ Cairnarvon Many thanks, very helpful Feb 12, 2023 at 23:10
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  1. Beekes' reason to believe that κόπτω is possibly from Pre-Greek is formally based on evidence of s-mobile in words which may be considered pre-Greek for independent reasons. However, the usual comparison with σκάπτω has been noted much early, thus already Frisk, for example:

    The relation of these forms to the many words with initial sk-, e. g. σκάπτω, σκέπαρνος (s. vv.), is an unsolved question; cf. Pok. 930ff., and W.-Hofmann s. cāpō. - If to σκάπτω etc. the word might be Pre-Greek.

  2. In addition, in the derivatives there is one word which means "piece", deriving from the nebulous Pre-Greek in Fourneé's pilot study. It is not further discussed by Beekes.

  • It is paradox to the derivation of bit. Typologicly relevant, German Beil, Dutch Beil may be from *bíþla- (Kroonen) as instrumental noun from *bītaną "to bite". See also Ger. bisselchen "little bit", E. drill-bit or Ger. Spitze "tip". *-þla- seems to be a tool-suffix, compare Ger. Beitel "chisel", akin to Latin -culum, cp. seculum. The diminktuve connotation inherent in both the root and the suffix makes this quite complicated, cp. Pickel "pickaxe; zit", dim. 'l; Hackebeil is a set term with ideophonic qualities, so not too useful. See also Hackfresse (perhaps "hag; ugly mug").
  1. There is no evidence of Proto-Germanic **hā̆bjǭ.

    As an expressive form of *happjā (Kluges law?) it has only continental Germanic cognates with German Hippe (a kind of knife), Dutch heep and Old Saxon (Wiktionary). Vennemann mentions it in search of an etymology for "knife" going as far as Basque (Festschrift Liberman). Most likely it is comparable to chip, chop, Ger. kappen, French couper, etc.

The fact that Kroonen, who worked extensively on Kluge's law, does not have it in the Proto-Germanic Etymological Dictionary suggests that the derivation is less than certain. However, a decade has passed since. Further research would be welcome.

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