Saturday, 27 December 2014

27th Lexember Word

|no|som /ɲo̞t͡so̞m/, noun: “stability, presence, existence; also as adj. stable, present, existing”

To be fair, the man had worse issues than just that :P.

OK, I have no idea what the deal with this word is. First, its senses. Now, I’ve seen my share of polysemic words in Moten. And I get why “existence” and “presence” could feel related enough to use a single word. But “stability”? Yet here it is…

Second, its etymology. |No|som is a compound, and quite a transparent one at that. But it’s a weird compound. First, I will focus on its second part, which is the least weird :). Som, in Moten, is a noun with a lot of cultural baggage. And since I know so little about Moten culture, this means I have difficulties translating it. In my lexicon, I glossed it as “primordial essence”, “fundamental matter” and “source of everything”. It seems to be a philosophical concept that refers to the source of all energy and matter. But it also has a more mundane meaning of “energy, the capacity to do work”. In that sense, it’s commonly used as a suffix to form nouns that indicate capacity or ability, or other abstract but measurable concepts (an example of that is negzom: “power”, from |negi: “to do, to accomplish”).

So that’s how it’s used in |no|som. But there is one issue: som is normally added to verbal stems, while |not, the first part of |no|som, is a nominal one. It’s actually a noun, with various meanings like “(abstract) source, origin”, “(abstract) cornerstone, main part” or even “head (of a body)”. All things that, while tantalisingly not completely unrelated, are still rather far semantically from “existence” or “presence” (“stability” sounds about right, given |not's meaning of “cornerstone”. But |not is strictly abstract, while |no|som can refer to the physical stability of a building).

So there you have it. A weird noun, with weird etymology and weird polysemy :). It’s probably just a very old formation, which then suffered semantic drift while its components suffered a different kind of semantic drift. Still, it’s not your average noun :).


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