skubalon (and etymology)

From: alexali (
Date: Sun Aug 01 1999 - 14:20:32 EDT

I posted yesterday a reference to a supposed etymology of SKUBALON as being
from EIS KUWN BALLEIN, in response to which Daniel Rufilanchas replied (in

The word certainly "sounds" like having something to do with ba/llw, (like
Spanish word "sandalia" sounds like having to do with "andar", without
being a possible etymological relation, and such coincidences *can*
determine the history of a word) but EIS KUWN BALLEIN can be nothing but
popular or pre-scientific (a la Isidoro de Sevilla) etymology.

And with all of this I agree. But it is this point of the popular
etymology influencing the understanding of a word which is most
fascinating. J B Lightfoot (Saint Paul's Epistle to the Philippians,
(eighth edition) 1888) says of SKUBALON the following:

"As regards derivation, it is now generally connected with SKWR, SKATOS...
This derivation countencances the former of the two sense senses given
above [ie " 'excrement,' the portion of food rejected by the body"]; but
Suidas explains the word, TO TOIS KUSI BALLOMENON KUSIBALON TI ON (comp.
Etym. Mag. p. 719, 53); and so Pott, Eytm. Forsch. II p295, taking SKU- to
represent ES KUNAS and comparing SKORAKIZEIN. This account of the word
seems at least as probable as the other; but whether correct or not, it
would appear to have been the popular derivation, and from this
circumstance the second of the two meanings [ie 'The refuse or leavings of
a feast'] would become more prominent than the first."

"At all events this meaning, which is well supported by the passages
quoted, is especially appropriate here. The Judaizers spoke of themselves
as banqueters seated at the Father's table, of Gentile Christians as the
dogs greedily snatching up the refuse meat which fell therefrom. St Paul
has reversed the image. The Judaizers are themselves the dogs (ver. 2);
the meats served to the sons of God are spiritual meats; the ordinances,
which the formalists value so highly, are the mere refuse of the feast."

Lightfoot's point is taken up by Moises Silva, in his commentary for the
Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary: "There is some evidence that the ancients
understood SKUBALON as deriving from TO TOIS KUSI BALLOMENON, 'that which
is thrown to the dogs'. [A footnote here acknowledges Lightfoot.] Since
popular etymologies play a significant role in the use of language, and
because Paul had earlier (v2) referred to his opponents as 'dogs,' we may
have here a veiled reference to the Judaizers."

It will be seen that my memory of the supposed etymology was incorrect (I
had mistakenly thought of KUWN being the subject of an EISBALLEIN split by
tmesis); nevertheless, I hope that the above clarification will not be
mere 'refuse', as it suggests that a popular etymology (however dubious)
may have been present in Paul's mind and deliberately used when he wrote.

Dr Alexander Hopkins (Melbourne, Australia)

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