As advised, I am posting a separate question, but I still think it is a better fit for linguistics (because of phonetics and phonology); feel free to migrate to latin SE.

Famagusta is supposed to be a corruption of Αμμόχωστος but how did the initial F spawn?

To make the question a bit more general we could analyze how F spawns initially in general.

But please restrict the question to a word getting an initial F when it started with a vowel. I am not interested in any and all Fs (even in the middle of the word) and I am not interested in words that started with a different consonant.


3 Answers 3


There is, to the best of my knowledge, no commonly attested general process by which /f/ spawns in the initial position of a word. Or differently stated, this is not a regular sound change.

Rather, this is a case of folk etymology, i.e. change in the form of a word resulting from reinterpreting an opaque form through familiar morphemes, like when Spanish cucaracha is transformed into English cockroach, as if made up by the native English words cock and roach. Another example is crayfish, formed by folk etymology from (the Middle English descendent of) Old French crevice (as if the latter part of the word were the word fish).

The mechanism here is not regular sound change, as if "-vice" generally were to become "-fish", but rather that speakers come across a word whose form does not make sense to them, and so they reinterpret it as consisting of (similar sounding) elements that do make (some kind of) sense to them.

In this case, the spoken Greek name /ammókʰɔːstos/ (or similar) was reinterpreted in a case of folk etymology by Latin/Italian speakers as consisting of fama "renown, fame" and gusta "taste!, enjoy!" (or a feminine derivative of gusto "taste, enjoyment"), as if the city were named "(the city of) famous enjoyment" or similar.


I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘general’ way that initial f spawns, cross-linguistically, so a general answer is probably not possible, but answers for individual languages are, such as this one.

In the Gaelic languages – Irish, Scottish and possibly also Manx, though I’m on less solid ground there – excrescent or disappearing initial f is fairly common.

The situation arises due to consonant mutation: when lenited, /f/ becomes /∅/, i.e., it disappears. That means that in grammatical contexts where the initial consonant of a word is lenited – such as when following the negative particle ní[or] (Irish) / cha[r] (Scottish), or the past-tense marker d’ (Irish) / dh’ (Scottish) – you can no longer tell that the underlying word begins with an f.

Analogy from such forms have caused a number of words that didn’t originally have initial f to gain one through hypercorrection. For example, the Old Irish verb an ‘wait, stay’ is now fan in Irish, based on analogies of this type:

/ˈfoːɾʲəNˠ/ ‘helps’  :  /Nʲiː ˈoːɾʲəNˠ/ ‘doesn’t help’,
  /foːɾʲ/   ‘help!’  :      /doːɾʲ/     ‘helped’
                    : :
     X      ‘waits’  :   /Nʲiː ˈanəNˠ/  ‘doesn’t wait’,
     X      ‘wait!’  :       /dan/      ‘waited’

– where X becomes /'fan(əNˠ)/.

As this is not a regular sound change, but analogical levelling across lexemes, the process is partial and somewhat random. Often, there is even variation between dialects of the same language – e.g., oir ‘suit’ is foir or foil in Connacht Irish, oscail ‘open’ is foscail in Ulster (fosgail in Scottish), etc.

  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Linguistics Meta, or in Linguistics Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 4 at 0:25
  • @curiousdannii Did you remove my comment about spawn? I thought it was super relevant as I have only seen that in computer programming. And I had an upvote on that comment. Comments are for clarification and I believe mine did that. Can you please restore it?//Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;=the "rules".
    – Lambie
    Feb 6 at 19:03

A theoretically conceivable soltution though impractical as far as evidence is concerned requires a series of horizontal sound changes at a more than early date. It's quite simple. 1. A change of f/h can be observed in Italic languages. 2. h-prothesis and deletion appear arbitrarily only later in Latin, perhaps too late. Much earlier on the other hand, initial PIE laryngeals were largely lost from most Indo-European but survived as sort of fricatives in some languages, e.g. Ossetic, Hittite, or as vowels namely in Greek. 3. Greek initial h mostly reflects PIE *s, *(s)w, digamma F in archaic dialects. In addition, 4. Greek χ / φ and Latin (h) might correlate in some cases (cf. laurel, δάφνη, δαυχνη) but this is difficult if not impossible to derive from PIE and antithetical to the question.

The point of "folk etymology" raised by @pinnerup may apply likewise to the inner Greek etymology of the name and frankly doesn't matter.

The city in Cyprus is also know in Turkish as Gazimağusa, practically confirming the leading *s, but this leaves Ga unexplained.


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