Re: DEXIA and DECOMAI

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Fri Jan 21 2000 - 17:57:55 EST


At 2:02 PM -0500 1/21/00, Mike Sangrey wrote:
>Two questions:
> 1. Are DEXIA and DECOMAI etymologically related?

I would be somewhat dubious, for my part, about assuming this in the first
place, and even more about making much of it, even if it's true. I don't
have an etymological dictionary ready to had, but my first impression is
that DEX is the root of DEXIA, not DEK or DEC; the Latin word for right
hand is DEXT(E)RA, which appears to be a compound of the same root DEX and
the comparative element-TER- before the -A feminine ending. I would guess
that the root DEX is Indo-European if it's found in both Latin and Greek,
assuming that Latin has NOT borrowed it from Greek and I don't see any
reason to assume a borrowing. Nevertheless I wouldn't rule it out, but I'd
be skeptical about it, and even more skeptical about drawing conclusions
about usage from an assumed etymological link of DEXIA and DECOMAI.

> 2. Is there substance to my thoughts related below?
>
>First, you can assume I understand the trappings of etymology.
>That is: it is easy from etymology to read more meaning into a
>word than what is actually there; and words ultimately derive their
>meaning from context which is both intra- and extra-textual.

ultimately, I'd say, from usage, which often has very little to do with an
original etymological relationship. My favorite example is English
"saunter" which is said to derive ultimately from the French "voyageurs
la sainte terre"--used of pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land, not very
directly, as it turned out to be the case.. There certainly is nothing left
of that original sense of pilgrimage in today's English "saunter."

>Now...
>
>DEXIA is different than CEIR. Where CEIR speaks of the body part,
>DEXIA is frequently positively used in idiomatic expressions
>(unlike ARISTERA, which has negative connotations.)

actually, DEXIA is an adjective agreeing with an implicit CEIR pretty much
the same way that ERHMOS is not a word meaning "desert" by itself but an
adjective used with an implicit noun GH. And it is certainly true that
words for" right hand" in many languages have positive connotations (Fr.
"droit(e)", German "recht", Latin "dextra") as opposed to negative
connotations of the words for left hand (Fr. "gauche," German "link(e),"
Latin "sinistra"). And it's true of all of these that they are feminine
adjectives used with an implict feminine noun for "hand."

>Louw and Nida, regarding the DECOMAI family (34:53), speak about
>"the spacial [perhaps the British spelling-MJS] relationships
>involved in the welcoming of a guest can be reflected in the
>prepositional prefixes."

Could that have been "special"--instead of "spacial"? Just a typo? I can't
find this in my L&N in AcCordance.

>What I'm wondering is: if DEXIA and DECOMAI are related, then
>the prepositional prefixes may not be referring to the spatial
>relationship of the people, but to the placement of the 'right hand',
>that is, the placement of that special hand. The prefixes then bring
>some rather vivid pictures into view.
>
>For example, in Luke 15:2 "hOUTOS hAMARTWLOUS PROSDECETAI KAI
>SUNESQIEI AUTOIS." Jesus' welcoming of sinners may be viewed as
>a mutual, almost reflexive, welcoming. The picture, to a western
>mind, is of two friends clasping hands in a hearty handshake.
>
>APODECOMAI: Luke 8:40 "EN DE TWi hUPOSTEREFEIN TON IHSOUN APEDEXATO
>AUTON hO OCLOS" The crowd didn't all run up to Jesus and shake
>His hand. They welcomed him from a slight distance, but it was,
>nevertheless, a DEXIA type of welcoming. The picture strikes a
>nice balance between physical distance and emotional closeness.
>
>PARADECOMAI: Acts 15:4--"PAREDECQHSAN APO THS EKKLHSIAS." Paul and
>Barnabas were welcomed by the church. Unlike APODECOMAI, the crowd
>in this case had to get close. In simple terms, the picture is
>that of a group hug.
>
>EPIDECOMAI: 3 John 1:10--"KAI MH APKOUMENOS EPI TOUTOIS OUTE
>AUTOS EPIDECETAI TOUS ADELFOUS." I wonder if EPIDECOMAI has the
>sense of 'recommending' here. The picture is of one who places his
>(or her) hand upon the back of the shoulder and recommends the
>individual to the group. In a sense pushing the person forward.
>Diotrephes was *not* this type of person.
>
>I eagerly await the 'common mind of the experts.'

To expect a "common mind" on a question like this may be a little bit too
much to hope for. For my part, I have to say I'm skeptical; I checked LSJ
on this (at Perseus) and note, for instance, that DECOMAI may have the
sense "receive as an enemy, await the attack of"--and that wouldn't seem
likely to have anything to do with a welcoming DEXIA. I'm sorry not to be
welcoming the notion, but I really think it's fanciful rather than probable
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
cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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