Re: Etymology of AGAQOS

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Nov 25 1999 - 15:55:37 EST

At 11:22 AM -0800 11/25/99, clayton stirling bartholomew wrote:
>>From: Steven Craig Miller <>
>> Are etymological studies out of fashion today?
>This depends on who you ask. In some circles etymology has become about
>as respectable as tarot card reading. In Biblical Hebrew studies
>etymology is still used occasionally for hapaxlegomona but there were a
>lot of excesses committed a few decades ago which have made scholars
>more than a little wary of arguments based on etymology.
>I have been using M. Dahood's works on the Psalms (AB, 1960's) and have
>noted his tendency to solve every problem by finding a supposed parallel
>in Ugaritic. This sort of thing was all the rage decades ago in OT
>studies before James Barr came along and applied his blow torch style
>criticism to their methodology. A number of scholars got singed.
>In Biblical Greek we have such a massive amount of lexical data I cannot
>see why we should ever have to restort to etymology to solve problems.
>It is a method of last resort.

I think I am pretty much inclined to agree with Clay on this. I find
etymology fascinating but I think of it more as an intellectual game rather
than a very serious scholarly pursuit. There are two mid-20th-century
etymologies of Greek that I have copies of at my office, a French one
edited by Boisacq (late 30's?) and a smaller but more recent German one
edited by Hofmann (mid 50's?). Unless there are convincing cognates--based
on standard phonological correspondences --from other IE languages for a
Greek word, I'd regard any etymology as pretty speculative, not worthless,
perhaps, but not worth an awful lot. I wouldn't base much on the Victorian
edition of L&S, at any rate; I think that the most recent LSJ-Glare is much
more careful in suggesting etymologies.

As for AGAQOS, I've often suspected that there may well be a link to the
common root *AGA- that appears in some compound adjectives and perhaps in
the verb AGAMAI, "marvel at"--but that's really little more than (if
anything at all more than) speculation. The remarkable thing is that the
comparatives and superlatives to AGAQOS are based upon altogether different
roots (BELT-, AR-, and KRAT-); it wouldn't surprise me to find out--if
anything ever does get found out about AGAQOS--that it's not doesn't have
an IE cognate at all.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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