Mycenaean words related to τρέπω and στρέφω

A story of conflation

in Indo-European Linguistics

This paper deals with the Mycenaean representatives of three IE verbal roots: *terk - ‘twist’, *trep- ‘turn’ and *streg u̯h - ‘turn, rotate’. Mycenaean data show that the derivatives of *terk - were still differentiated before the loss of labiovelar stops in post-Mycenaean times and that the verb στρέφω ‘turn, twist, rotate’ stems from *streg u̯h -. Semantic interference among these roots is already underway in the Mycenaean period, anticipating the convergence of *terk - with *trep- and *streg u̯h - in the first millennium.


This paper deals with the Mycenaean representatives of three IE verbal roots: *terk - ‘twist’, *trep- ‘turn’ and *streg u̯h - ‘turn, rotate’. Mycenaean data show that the derivatives of *terk - were still differentiated before the loss of labiovelar stops in post-Mycenaean times and that the verb στρέφω ‘turn, twist, rotate’ stems from *streg u̯h -. Semantic interference among these roots is already underway in the Mycenaean period, anticipating the convergence of *terk - with *trep- and *streg u̯h - in the first millennium.


The Mycenaean lexicon has been a very important source for Greek etymology. Some conspicuous cases are e-ne-ka ἕνεκα ‘on account of’, which invalidated the traditional etymology supposing a wāw after the nasal on the basis of Hom. εἵνεκα; qa-si-re-u ‘foreman’, which imposes the existence of an initial labiovelar stop for the Prehellenic word βασιλεύς (meaning ‘king’ in the first millennium); or a-to-po-qo ‘baker’, which confirms the etymological relation of ἀρτοκόπος with *pek - ‘ripen’, cf. πέσσω ‘make ripe, cook’, πέπων ‘ripe’, in spite of the metathesis of π … κ.

The same can be said of τρέπω ‘turn’ and στρέφω ‘turn, twist, rotate’, whose Mycenaean representatives exhibit a labiovelar stop that imposes a relation of τρέπω with *terk - and a root *streg u̯h - instead of *strebh- for στρέφω. As will be seen below, the situation is a bit complex, and the first problem is posited by the indeterminacy of Linear B, which does not differentiate voiced, voiceless, and aspirated stops (qa = gā̆, kā̆ or ku̯hā̆). The second issue is the ascription of τρέπω to *trep- without a final labiovelar. Thirdly, the vocalisation of Mycenaean representatives can conceal an o-grade or / ro or even a zero grade .

The purpose of this paper is to show that the affinities between three verbal roots, *trep-, *terk - and *streg u̯h -, gave rise to a conflation and reduction into two Greek verbs, τρέπω and στρέφω. This process was on-going in the Mycenaean period and was completed after the loss of labiovelar stops.

Etymological proposals regarding τρέπω and στρέφω

The verbs τρέπω and στρέφω have similar meanings, yet their roots are clearly different.

Τρέπω ‘turn’ is a verb with a certain IE origin. Etymological dictionaries connect it to *trep- ‘turn’, see GEW, DELG and EDG, and include Mycenaean to-ro-qe-jo-me-no in the discussion (see below), although the Mycenaean participle contains a labiovelar stop. This labiovelar precludes its relation to *trep-, even though it may have evolved into labial in post-Mycenaean Greek (k > p, cf. ἕπομαι ‘follow’ < *sek -).

Another possibility is to derive τρέπω from *terk - ‘twist’. In spite of the fact that *trep- has adequate parallels for τρέπω in other languages, cf. Hitt. terepp-zi ‘plough’, Skt. trapate ‘feels ashamed, becomes timid’ (like Greek ἐντρέπομαι ‘turn about, feel shame’), Lat. trepit = vertit ‘he/she turns’ (only in Fest. p. 367 Müll.), this option would solve the problem posed by Myc. to-ro-qe-jo-me-no. However, this derivation supposes an alternative vocalisation after the resonant.1 In this respect, the words derived from *terk - found in other languages only attest to vocalisation before the resonant; cf. Alb. tjerr, aor. torra ‘turn’, Hitt. tarukzi, tarkuanzi ‘dance’, Lat. torqueō ‘turn, twist’, Skt. niṣ-ṭarkyà- ‘that can be unscrewed’, tarku- ‘spindle’, tarkayati ‘consider’, Toch. B tärk- ‘twist around, work (wood)’. Even if Schwebeablaut cannot be completely discarded, i.e., *terk -/*trek -, this pattern can mostly be explained through phonological processes (Ozoliņš 2015), as this paper attempts to do while incorporating a semantic analysis.

The case of στρέφω ‘turn, twist, rotate’ is even more complicated, since there is no other IE language which exhibits derivatives from the same root. Two possibilities can be envisaged: *strebh- or *streg u̯h -. The first one, accepted by LIV2, is based on the comparison with forms like στραβός ‘squinting’, στρεβλός ‘twisted, crooked’ and στρόμβος ‘top, whirlwind, trumpet-shell, snail’, which may represent a vulgar expressive variant without aspiration (GEW II 806–807), although these forms point, rather, to a Prehellenic origin (EGD 1412–1414). Nevertheless, Mycenaean forms like su-to-ro-qa = Att.-Ion. συστροφή ‘collection, gathering’ evince a final labiovelar stop (DELG 1064). In this regard, to-ro-qe-jo-me-no could also belong here, and so the problem posed by its labiovelar would be solved. As argued below, the semantics of the Mycenaean participle do not fit this root, yet it must be highlighted that LIV3 has corrected *strebh- into *streg u̯h - including the Mycenaean participle and the forms of the στρόμβος type, whose nasalisation is explained as a remnant of a nasal infix present stem *str̥-né-g u̯h -/str̥-n-g u̯h -.

Mycenaean representatives of τρέπω and στρέφω

There are quite a number of Mycenaean words belonging to the roots being studied, *trep-, *terk -, *streg u̯h -. Some are easily ascribable, but most of them can be related to more than one of the roots at issue.

The clearest representative of *trep- might be te-re-pa-to (KN Fp 14.1b). This word is fairly controversial; see DMic. I 302 on jo-te-re-pa-to. However, the context and the fact that it is preceded by the proclitic particle jo- assure its verbal nature:2

a-ma-ko-to , ‘me-no’ / jo-te-re-pa-to , // e-ke-se-si v 1 ole

The line is introduced by a temporal specification, a-ma-ko-to me-no ‘in the month of Amaktos’,3 and ends with a dative plural, e-ke-se-si,4 who receive an amount of oil. The verb form has a middle ending -to and the a of the penultimate syllable might indicate that it is an alpha-thematic aorist. Its interpretation must remain obscure, but the relation to *trep- is supported by the general context in which the tablet stands, as well as by the impossibility to connect the Mycenaean form with other verbal roots attested in Greek.

First of all, proposals that connect te-re-pa-to with θεράπων ‘attendant, servant’ (Milani 1965: 426), τέρπομαι ‘delight oneself’ (Docs. 307), τραπέω ‘tread (olives)’ (Taillardat 1984: 368–370) or τρέφω ‘feed’ (Kamerbeek 1956: 338) must be rejected. The first word, θεράπων ‘attendant, servant’, has an opaque origin and is possibly an Anatolian loanword (EDG 541; Jiménez 2008: 11). There is only one possible verb form related to this term in Ancient Greek, Myc. te-ra-pi-ke (PY Eb 842.B, Ep 613.8), an iterative 3. sg. present. Note that the primary verb should be *θεράπω (te-ra-p) rather than *θερέπω (te-re-p); compare θεραπεύω ‘serve, care for’, a denominative in -εύω. A connection with τέρπομαι ‘delight oneself’ does not befit an oil offering and would contradict the Linear B spelling rules, according to which resonants are graphically omitted before a following consonant (te-p). A connection with τραπέω ‘tread’ supposes a different ablaut (ta-ra-p) and a Mycenaean alpha-thematic aorist related to a contract present (ta-ra-pe-) instead of the expected sigmatic aorist (ta-ra-pe-sa-), while τρέφω ‘feed’ does not fit in the general context of the Fp series.

The connection of te-re-pa-to with τρέπω is not without problems either. From a morphological perspective, this verb only has a root aorist ἔτραπον and a sigmatic aorist ἔτρεψα. Alpha-thematic aorists are very rare,5 so it is tempting to reconstruct a form te-re-pa-sa-to τρέψα(ν)το without augment supposing a scribal error. Nevertheless, scribal errors must be called upon only when other possibilities can be discarded, and in this case nothing precludes that te-re-pa-to stands for a Mycenaean form unknown in the first millennium. Furthermore, a passive meaning is expected given that the sentence has no explicit subject.6 A passive meaning is possible with the thematic aorist ἐτραπόμην, yet it is not with the sigmatic aorist ἐτρεψάμην.7 It is true that passive meaning is known with an alpha-thematic aorist like ἀπεκτάμην ‘I was killed’ (Hom. Il. 15.437, etc.), though an alpha-thematic aorist *τρέπα(ν)το would be a Mycenaean hapax and its passive meaning cannot be assured at all.

Despite the morphological difficulties posed by the connection of te-re-pa-to with τρέπω, it still remains the best option from an etymological and a semantic perspective. Fp tablets record oil offerings with a religious background. In this context, the use of τρέπω might be expected with the sense of directing the oil to the divinities mentioned, the e-ke-se-si and the recipients which appear in the second line of the tablet, qe-ra-si-ja ‘(for) Therasia’ and pa-si-te-o-i ‘(for) all the gods’. Note that τρέπω is not construed with the dative case and that this construction is proper to ἐπιτρέπω with the sense of entrusting something to someone; regardless, the construction of the verb with a dative of interest is always possible. Finally, middle inflection is difficult to account for, since τρέπομαι basically means ‘turn oneself’, i.e., the verb is intransitive when used in the middle voice. To keep the transitive construction (the quantities of oil would be the object of te-re-pa-to), one can attribute the middle inflection to the religious context: this middle might imply that the subject is making an oil offering in his own interest; cf. θύειν ‘offer sacrifice (in someone else’s interest)’: θύεσθαι ‘offer sacrifice (in one’s own interest)’ (Wackernagel 1920: 126; Ruijgh 2004: 25–26). An intransitive middle would also be possible if the quantities of oil were syntactically unrelated to te-re-pa-to. In any event, there is no explicit subject on the tablet, although the use of a third person verb form without subject is known in Mycenaean texts; see Jiménez (2016: 149–152). The main difficulty with this interpretation is that this employment of τρέπομαι with a religious nuance, whether transitive or intransitive, would be a Mycenaean specialisation unknown in the first millennium.

All in all, the only thing that can be said is that the best way of interpreting te-re-pa-to is in connection with *trep-, even though we cannot be certain about this etymology.

Two derivatives from *streg u̯h - are ku-su-to-ro-qa (KN Bg 817, PY Ed 411.1, Er 880.8, TH Av 101.6a, Fq 187.4, 214.14, 229.14, 252.6, 254.15, 269.7, 276.10, 277.4, 306.4, 359.3, 362.1, 394.1) and to-ro-qo (KN Od 563.1). The former is used to introduce totals and is the equivalent of Att.-Ion. συστροφή ‘collection, gathering’.8 The latter appears in a tablet with an uncertain interpretation:

.1 ri-jo-ni-jo , / e-ze-to , to-ro-qo.2 a-to-mo-na , / su-mo-no-qe lana 14

The tablet records a consignment of wool. The first word is an adjective derived from the place name ri-jo-no (KN Ap 629.1, 5876.2, C 902.7, D- passim). Apparently, it qualifies to-ro-qo as a toponymic specification. The last two words are coordinated by -qe (= τε) and most probably are two women’s names. The most controversial word is e-ze-to, which could be a verb form related to o-ze-to (PY Vn 130.1); o-ze-to can be interpreted as containing the particle o- (a variant of jo-, see above) and a verb form that has been equated with γέντο, a 3. sg. aorist meaning ‘he/she grasped, took’.9 If this equation is correct, e-ze-to would be the same form with augment, although an augmented *ἔγεντο is unattested in the first millennium. In any case, the context calls for the interpretation of to-ro-qo as στρόφος ‘twisted band, cord’. The attempts to connect this word to *terk - (see DMic. II 367) are much less felicitous, first, because there is no semantic match in the first millennium pointing to this root, and second, because the ro vocalisation is more compatible with *streg u̯h -.

The rest of Mycenaean words that may be related to the roots being analysed are even more difficult to ascribe. All of them exhibit an o-grade but can be divided into two groups depending on the vocalisation before or after the resonant.

Those vocalised in or are to-qi-de ‘spiral’ and its derivatives to-qi-de-ja, to-qi-de-we-sa,10 as well as -to-qo ‘(wine) press’ vel sim. in the sequence jo-e-ke-to-qo. The first noteworthy detail is that this type of vocalisation is proper to *terk -. Forms belonging to *streg u̯h - only exhibit vocalisation after the sonorant, at least in the first millennium. It is also feasible to see in these forms a zero grade with a typical Mycenaean vocalisation in the vicinity of a labial stop (Risch & Hajnal 2006: 204; Bernabé & Luján 2006: 129); cf. to-pe-za τόρπεζα = Att.-Ion. τράπεζα. However, this last possibility is less felicitous from a morphological perspective, since the words in question are best explained as o-grade formations.

The noun to-qi-de refers to a decorative motif on tables and stools recorded in the Pylian Ta series, which always depends on a verbal adjective or participle: a-ja-me-no (Ta 721.1.2), qe-qi-no-me-na (Ta 713.1.2) and qe-qi-no-to (Ta 642.3).11 It is inflected in the instrumental dative singular (Waanders 2008: 805). The adjectives to-qi-de-ja (Ta 709.1, 715.3) and to-qi-de-we-sa (Ta 711.3) are derivatives of this noun with the suffixes *-ei̯o/eh2- and *-u̯ent- respectively. They appear in the same series qualifying feminine nouns: pi-je-ra3 ‘boiling pans’, to-pe-zo ‘(two) tables’, qe-ra-na ‘pitcher, ewer’. The group formed by to-qi-de and its derivatives is generally ascribed to *terk - (DMic. II 364). As explained by Docs. 336, these words refer to spirals, a typical motif in Mycenaean decoration. In the first millennium, the word meaning spiral is ἕλιξ, κος, from a very different root, while similar derivatives of *streg u̯h - and *trep- have different meanings; cf. στροφίς ‘band’ and τρόπις ‘ship’s keel’. Note that these derivatives make an o-grade more plausible than a zero grade for the Mycenaean term, even though τρόπις has a different suffix -i- (Chantraine 1979: 112). In this regard, the suffix -id- of to-qi-de is not incompatible with an o-grade (Balles & Lühr 2008: 215–216) and both suffixes tend to be confounded (Chantraine 1979: 336).

The sequence jo-e-ke-to-qo contains three words: the particle jo- (see n. 2), the verb form e-ke equivalent to ἔχει ‘he/she/it has’, and to-qo, a noun. It appears in KN Gv 863, a ‘palm-leaf’ tablet lacking right and left edges and related to grape vines:

.1 ] q̣ạ-ra , / jo-e-ke-to-qo , wo-na-si , ṣị[.2 ] we-je-we *174 420 suarb 104̣[

The first line begins with a place name qa-ra well known in the Knossian tablets (KN Am 819.B, D- passim, L 473.B, Og 1804.b, Pp 495, Uf passim, V 865.3–5, X 44.B, 5722). Two of the preserved words refer to grape vines: wo-na-si ‘in the vineyards’ (cf. Hsch. οἰνάδες· ἀμπελώδεις τόποι) and we-je-we ‘grape vine plants’, Hsch. ὑιήν· τὴν ἄμπελον. ἢ υἱόν (cf. υἱόν· ἀναδενδράδα), more precisely vine plants trained to climb fig trees referred to by su arb (Ruipérez & Melena 1990: 155–156; Palmer 1995: 277). This led Milani (1965: 427) to interpret to-qo as an action noun meaning ‘(wine) pressing’,12 an appropriate meaning for *terk -; cf. Lat. torcular, torculum ‘(wine, oil) press’. This interpretation entails a paroxytone noun τόρκwος, but it is also possible to set forth an oxytone agent noun τορκwός meaning ‘press’. There is some evidence for the Mycenaean word in the first millennium: ἐλαιοτρόπιον ‘olive-press’ (Gp. 6.1.6; BCH 26: 182, Syria III AD), ἐλαιοτροπικός ‘for pressing olives’ (I. Mylasa nº 206.3, II-I BC; in the expression ἐλαιοτροπικὰ ἄρμενα ‘implements for pressing olives’), οἰνοτροπικοί ‘wine-blenders’ (Gal. 8.768), οἰνοτρόποι ‘turning water into wine’ (Lyc. 580), an epithet attributed to the daughters of Anius, grandson of Staphylus (son of Dionysus and Ariadne), τροπήϊον ‘press’ (Hippon. 57). Other proposals are more remote, e.g., that of Chadwick (1996: 280) equating -to-qo with τόπος ‘place, region, space’ (τόπος < *tep- ‘to hit, stick, smear’, see EGD 1494), or that of Melena (2014a: 39): /hō(s) hekhei torkwos/ ‘the “circuit” (?) is as follows in vineyards’, which implies -to-qo = τρόπος ‘turn, direction, way’. Note that Lejeune (1976: 200 n. 29) has suggested that -to-qo might be a man’s name and the subject of e-ke. Such a name could be related to *terk -, but it must be stressed that ṣị[ might also be the beginning of a man’s name and the subject of the verb.

The forms vocalised in ro can also be explained as o-grade formations. There are two examples: to-ro-qe-jo-me-no ‘making a tour of inspection’ and e-to-ro-qa-ta ‘twisted leather thongs (with which the oar was fastened to the thole)’. Their vocalisation is not consistent with *terk -, although ascription to *streg u̯h - is less felicitous from a semantic perspective and they cannot be ascribed to *trep- due to their labiovelar.

The middle participle to-ro-qe-jo-me-no appears in the heading of PY Eq 213, a tablet recording arable lands from different districts:

.1 o-wi-de , a-ko-so-ta , to-ro-qe-jo-me-no , a-ro-u-ra , a2-ri-sa ,

The line is introduced by the particle o-, a lenited form of jo- with initial aspiration (see n. 2), followed by the aorist wi-de ‘(he) saw’ (= Hom. (ϝ)ἴδε), whose subject, a-ko-so-ta, is an important officer of the Pylian administration. The object of wi-de is a-ro-u-ra ‘arable lands’ (= acc. pl. ἄρουρας), the lands inspected by a-ko-so-ta. The interpretation of a2-ri-sa is highly controversial, but unnecessary in order to understand the line. The participle to-ro-qe-jo-me-no is a circumstantial participle agreeing with a-ko-so-ta. It has been related both to τρέπω (Docs. 269; etc.) and στρέφω (Palmer 1963: 218 & 459), as well as distinguished from those two verbs (Meissner 2001: 35). From a morphological perspective, it can be considered an iterative-causative formation with o-grade and *-ei̯e/o- suffix or a denominative with *-i̯e/o- suffix. A final possibility is to observe in to-ro-qe-jo-me-no a frequentative in ō-grade (Palmer 1963: 218), despite the fact that these frequentatives are typically contract verbs in -άω (Hock 1971: 309–310). What we find in the first millennium is a Homeric iterative-causative τροπέω attested only once: Il. 18.224 ἵπποι ἂψ ὄχεα τρόπεον ‘the horses turned their cars backward’. Apart from that, we find compound denominatives like ἀλλοιοτροπέω ‘change colour’, αὐτοτροπέω ‘be like oneself, i.e., unique’, κακοτροπέω ‘become malignant’, and, in fact, Tucker (1991: 131) considers τροπέω a denominative, as well as παρατροπέω ‘lead astray, mislead’ and περιτροπέω ‘turn from all sides to a centre’. In the case of στρέφω, there are also compound denominatives in o-grade, as well as a simple verb στροφέω ‘cause the colic’ (Ar. Pax 175), a derivative of στρόφος ‘twisting of the bowels’, which makes no sense in the Mycenaean context. Finally, there are frequentatives from both roots, τρωπάω ‘turn, change’, στρωφάω ‘turn constantly, keep turning’, and even στρωφέομαι, a secondary form in -έω attested in Aret. CD 1.4. All these verbs are attested in the active voice, but the frequentatives in ō-grade are also attested in the middle voice, τρωπάομαι ‘turn about’, στρωφάομαι ‘roam about, wander’. From a semantic standpoint, the Mycenaean participle is most probably an iterative-causative equivalent to τροπέω. The middle voice can be explained as a reflexive middle indicating that causer and causee are coreferential (Jiménez 2006: 137):13

I cause you to turn → I cause myself to turn

On the other hand, the participle is probably related to *terk - in view of its labiovelar stop and despite the vocalisation after the resonant. Its meaning is very specific and is related to the activity of inspection, so that it is usually translated as ‘making a tour of inspection’. This specialised meaning was lost in the first millennium, though it is somehow consistent with some meanings of τρέπω in the middle and passive voices like ‘turn in a certain direction’ (Hom. Od. 15.80 τραφθῆναι ἀν’ Ἑλλάδα ‘roam up and down Greece’; Hdt. 2.3.1 ἐς Θήβας … ἐτραπόμην ‘I went to Thebes’), ‘betake oneself’ (Hom. Il. 3.422 ἐπὶ ἔργα τράποντο ‘they turned to their tasks’; Th. 1.5.1 ἐτράποντο πρὸς λῃστείαν ‘they turned to piracy’), ‘be turned or look in a certain direction’ (Hdt. 1.84.3 πρὸς τοῦ Τμώλου τετραμμένον ‘(the side of a city) which faces towards Tmolus’).

The word e-to-ro-qa-ta (KN Oa 878.2, U 736.2) has been interpreted as /entrokwta/, /entrokwātai/ or even /entrokwtai/ (Leukart 1994: 92), with the meaning ‘twisted leather thongs (with which the oar was fastened to the thole)’. It would be a derivative of *terk - in zero grade, either a nominalised verbal adjective in *--, an agent noun in *-tās, or a noun formed of the verbal adjective with an *-ās suffix found in other tool names. Nevertheless, the first millennium evidence points to an o-grade formation; cf. τροπός (Hom. Od. 4.782, 8.53) and τροπωτήρ (Ar. Ach. 549, Th. 2.93), which have the same meaning as the Mycenaean term, as well as the corresponding verbs ἐντροπόω (Hsch., Agath. 5.22.2) and τροπόω (Aesch. Pers. 376), which mean ‘fasten the oars with thongs’. The Mycenaean term might be a denominative from ἐντροπή, i.e., either an agent noun /entrokwā́tai/ or even a nominalised verbal adjective /entrokwātá/ with a secondary extension of the o-grade (Chantraine 1979: 305), and the vocalisation after the resonant would, indeed, be the result of an interference of *terk - with *trep-. Be that as it may, García-Ramón (2000: 166–167) interprets e-to-ro-qa-ta as a man’s name /Esthlo-(k)kwā(s)tās/, a compound of ἐσθλός and πάομαι; see also Ruijgh (1967: 123 n. 259). In fact, it is possible to interpret e-to-ro-qa-ta as two different words in Oa 878, a tablet recording cloth, and in U 736, where na-u-do-mo ναυδόμοι ‘ship builders’ are mentioned. It should be noted that the logogram *181 that follows e-to-ro-qa-ta in U 736.2 has the form of a loop.

Finally, there is one term exhibiting both possibilities, vocalisation in or and ro: to-qa / to-ro-qa (KN Fh 339, 391, 8299 / 358, 376, 5446.2, 5497). The fact that all the tablets in which it appears are written by the same scribe (identified as scribal hand 141) has led some scholars to propose that they represent two different words, as accepted in DMic. II 363 & 366. However, both forms seem to be variants of a single word that alternates with another term, zo-a, to indicate two different ways of processing oil, twisting or to-qa / to-ro-qa and boiling or zo-a.14 If this interpretation is correct, both to-qa / to-ro-qa and zo-a represent o-grade action nouns (Chantraine 1979: 18–26). The alternation of the former might be explained as the result of a zero grade (Risch & Hajnal 2006: 204–205; Bernabé & Luján 2006: 129), which is also known in this type of action noun as a secondary extension of the present stem vocalism. However, the first millennium bearers of this term are o-grade derivatives; cf. τροπή ‘turn, turning’ and στροφή ‘turning, revolving, circling’. The first of the words at issue, zo-a, derives from ζέω, while to-qa and to-ro-qa are derivatives of *terk -, or, less likely, derivatives of *streg u̯h - in view of the or vocalisation of to-qa, which is unknown in the derivatives of στρέφω. On the etymology of this term, see Ruijgh (1968: 705–707). Nevertheless, the exact meaning of these nouns is uncertain. They probably refer to the industrial use of oil in perfume manufacturing, zo-a to boiling the oil in the process called hot enfleurage or maceration; cf. PY Un 267.3–4 a-re-pa-te ze-so-me-no ἀλειφάτει ζεσσομένωι ‘for the ointment that is going to be boiled’, to-qa / to-ro-qa to stirring the oil in cold enfleurage15 (cf. Dsc. 1.46 οἰνάνθην τὴν ἐκ σταφυλῆς εὐώδη μαράνας βάλε εἰς ὀμφάκινον ἔλαιον καὶ κίνει μεταστρέφων (underlining mine; note the semantic proximity of στρέφω to *terk -) ‘after drying the aromatic inflorescence of the grape vine, place it into oil of unripe olives and stir turning it upside down’ (translation by Beck 2005)). On the techniques used to make perfume in antiquity, see Brun (2000: 278–282), Riddle (1985: 91), and Shelmerdine (1985: 11–16).16

A case of conflation

The meaning of the roots at issue is very similar: *trep- means ‘turn (in a certain direction)’, *terk - means ‘twist’ and, by specialization, ‘spin’ (Mallory & Adams 1997: 572; Mallory & Adams 2006: 234, 237), *streg u̯h - means ‘turn around, rotate’.17 Phonetically, they are also similar, especially after the elimination of labiovelar stops in post-Mycenaean times.18 As the result of this elimination, *trep- and *terk - converged in τρέπω and streg u̯h - evolved into στρέφω. Only one Cypriot derivative of *terk - remained differentiated: Hsch. εὐτρόσσεσθαι· ἐπιστρέφεσθαι. Πάφιοι (εὐ-τρόσσεσθαι represents a zero-grade *-i̯e/o- present *tr̥k-i̯é/ó- according to Egetmeyer 2010: 464 and means ‘turn to / towards’). Given that labiovelar stops were still distinguished in Mycenaean, one can wonder at what stage of their evolution these roots were in Mycenaean times. In my opinion, Mycenaean data show that *trep- and *terk - were still differentiated, though interference between them and with *streg u̯h - were already at play.

Conflation is a term mainly used in Cognitive Linguistics to define the convergence of two different meanings in the same word (Talmy 1985 & 1991). Furthermore, it is employed to describe the coinage of new lexical entries in creole languages from merging two words belonging to the super- and substrate languages (Kihm 1989). It can also be found in historical linguistics, especially with reference to morphological processes in which two originally distinct morphs merge into one (Tanaka 2011). In Indo-European studies, morphological conflation is usually called syncretism (Hock 1991: 183–187; Baerman et al. 2005).

What I am calling conflation in this paper is a mix of phonological convergence and semantic interference. Phonological convergence or phonological merger (Sihler 2000: 44) is a relatively frequent phenomenon, for instance, in the evolution from PIE to the daughter languages. The PIE roots *h1nek̂- ‘to reach’ and *h2nek̂- ‘to take’ are an example of this. The outcome of h1 and h2 is the same in many cases, so both roots were traditionally referred to as a single one *Hnek̂-, since they are difficult to distinguish in the daughter languages; see Ozoliņš (2015: 30–39). In fact, both roots apparently merged in some languages; cf. Ved. naś- ‘reach, obtain’, Av. nā̆s- ‘reach, attain’ (nās- is also used as the suppletive aorist of bar- ‘bear, carry’), Lat. nancīscor ‘get, obtain’ (García-Ramón 1999b). In the case being studied, one can speak of contamination (Hock 1991: 197–199; Sihler 2000: 83), i.e., the influence that words belonging to the same semantic group may have on each other. Examples can be easily multiplied; see, for instance, Sp. sin en cambio, an adversative connector used in informal Spanish and resulting from the contamination of sin embargo with en cambio, the normative forms, or Engl. irregardless, resulting from irrespective and regardless. Another example is Ved. nom. pl. dvā́ras, acc. pl. dúras from PIE *dhu̯or- ‘door’, where the initial dental stop should have been aspirated, namely *dhvār-, dhur-; the absence of aspiration is attributed to the analogy with dva- ‘two’, which is supported by the fact that the Vedic word is a plurale tantum (the doors referred to by this word had two leaves); cf. EWAia I: 764–765. In the case discussed here, the most striking fact is the semantic contamination of *terk - by two other roots, namely *trep- and *streg u̯h -. The three roots at issue had similar meanings, so semantic interference is easy to understand, and, in Classical Greek, τρέπω and στρέφω still have a partial semantic overlap; cf. Hom. Il. 8.432 πάλιν τρέπε ἵππους ‘she turned back her horses’ vs. 8.168 μερμήριξεν ἵππους στρέψαι ‘he was in doubt whether he should wheel his horses’ and Th. 2.84.3 κατέστησαν ἐς ἀλκὴν μηδένα τρέπεσθαι αὐτῶν ‘they prevented all of them from turning and resisting’ vs. E. Andr. 1149 στρατὸν στρέψας πρὸς ἀλκήν ‘turning the army toward resistance’. Contamination and phonological merger of k with p brought about the elimination of *terk -, since it became a ‘clashing’ homonym (Hock 1991: 297–298) with *trep- and *terp-; cf. τέρπω ‘delight, gladden’. The meanings corresponding to *terk - were then reassigned either to τρέπω or to στρέφω depending on the type of twist denoted. The Mycenaean situation was intermediate between the contamination of *terk - with *trep- and *streg u̯h - and its eventual elimination after the loss of labiovelar stops.

Some of the Mycenaean forms discussed above are easily ascribed to the roots at issue: te-re-pa-to to *trep-, even if the interpretation of this verb form is far from certain; su-to-ro-qa ‘sum, total’ and to-ro-qo ‘cord’ to *streg u̯h -; to-qi-de ‘spiral’, to-qi-de-ja, to-qi-de-we-sa, adjectives related to to-qi-de, and to-qo ‘(wine) press’ to *terk -. Other forms belonging to *terk - exhibit an unexpected vocalisation. This could be attributed either to Schwebeablaut or to metathesis (Lejeune 1972: 142); however, I believe it is better accounted for as part of the convergence process that affected the roots under consideration. This is the case of o-grade derivatives from *terk - but with vocalisation after the resonant, like to-ro-qe-jo-me-no, a participle of an iterative-causative verb continued by Hom. τροπέω ‘(make) turn’, and e-to-ro-qa-ta, if the Mycenaean antecedent of Hom. τροπός and Att. τροπωτήρ ‘twisted leather thong, with which the oar was fastened to the thole’ is a denominative formation from ἐντροπή. This vocalisation can be easily explained by contamination with *trep- and *streg u̯h -. This interference can also account for the reason why to-qi-de is semantically continued by forms of στρέφω in the first millennium; cf. στροφάς, άδος ‘turning around, revolving, circling’, στροφίς, ίδος ‘band’, στρόφιγξ, ιγγος ‘pivot, axle’, while to-qo is comparable to derivatives of τρέπω.

Finally, the beginnings of the conflation of *terk - with τρέπω and στρέφω would be best seen in alternating forms like to-qa / to-ro-qa. The first one, to-qa, an o-grade action noun in *-eh2, is expected, while the vocalisation of to-ro-qa is proper to *trep- and *streg u̯h -. The alternation or / ro is known in Mycenaean in the vocalisation of zero grade ; cf. to-no ‘seat, throne’ / to-ro-no-wo-ko ‘makers of seats / thrones’ (PY Ta 707.1.2, 708.1.2, 714.1 / KN As 1517.11), Mycenaean representatives of θρόνος (< *dhr̥nó-). However, to-qa / to-ro-qa can hardly be a zero-grade action noun; cf. τροπή, στροφή as well as zo-a, po-ro-ko-wa, and e-pi-ko-wa in the same series. Again, contamination with *trep- and *streg u̯h - is a nice explanation for the confusion of the two vocalisations by the same Knossian scribe 141. As a matter of fact, cold enfleurage, the process alluded by the Mycenaean term, was described in the first millennium by resorting to the verb στρέφω.


Mycenaean Greek preserves a series of forms deriving from the root *terk - which remain differentiated: to-qi-de, to-qi-de-ja, to-qi-de-we-sa and to-qo. After the loss of labiovelar stops in post-Mycenaean Greek, these forms were confused with derivatives of τρέπω and στρέφω. Furthermore, Mycenaean demonstrates that στρέφω stems from a root with labiovelar *streg u̯h -; cf. su-to-ro-qa and to-ro-qo. The semantic proximity of *terk - to *streg u̯h - and *trep- can explain o-grade forms such as to-ro-qe-jo-me-no, possibly also e-to-ro-qa-ta, with a ro vocalisation that is unknown in the derivatives of *terk - documented in other languages. This suggests that the process of conflation of *terk - with the other two roots had begun before the loss of labiovelars, as alternating to-qa / to-ro-qa seems to indicate.


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The author wants to express his gratitude to the anonymous reviewer as well as to the editors of IEL, Joseph Eska and Ronald Kim, for their comments and suggestions on a previous version of this paper. Needless to say, all remaining errors and infelicities are exclusively the author’s.

The same is applicable to ἀτρεκής ‘exact, precise’, which has been considered a compound of privative ἀ- + s-stem τρέκος < *terk-. Furthermore, the velar is incompatible with this root (k > k?), as it is in the case of ἄτρακτος ‘spindle, arrow’, another word that has been connected to *terk-. For the etymological problems posed by these two words, see EDG 164 & 165. In turn, Nikolaev (2015) has proposed interpreting the compound adjective ἀτερπνός ‘sleepless’ as a derivative of *terk- (plus either “α-copulativum” or “α-intensivum”) whose original meaning would be ‘with much turning around’.

This particle is the instrumental case of the relative pronoun and is used to introduce headings that constitute relative clauses without antecedent. The particle refers to the manner in which the event takes place as developed in the following lines. There are very few exceptions to the pattern jo/o- + verb form; cf. jo-a-mi-ni-so-de (KN Og 4467.1; jo- + place name) and o-a-po-te (KN Le 641.1; o- + man’s name). On this particle, see Thompson (2002–2003) and Jiménez (2016: 132–135).

The interpretation of a-ma-ko-to is controversial (DMic. I 53) but the fact that it is followed by the temporal genitive me-no = Att.-Ion. μηνός assures its status as a month name. On the syntax of temporal expressions involving month names in Mycenaean, see Jiménez (2013). Note that this type of temporal specification is frequent in the Fp series, while the absence of toponymic specifications indicates that the oil deliveries recorded were made in Knossos itself.

The interpretation of this word is highly controversial (DMic. I 212), the only clear point being its athematic dative plural desinence -si.

Cf. Chantraine (1961: 165); Sihler (1995: 562–563).

Meriggi (1954: 25) proposed reading (ἐ)τράπετο ‘zugewandt wurde’.

Both thematic ἐτραπόμην and sigmatic ἐτρεψάμην have reflexive meaning, though only ἐτραπόμην can be passive. The former aorist is probably older than the latter (Allan 2003: 153 n. 277), which is only attested twice in Homer; cf. Od. 1.422, 18.305 (τρεψάμενοι).

The possible relation of ku-su-to-ro-qa with τρέπω is discarded by Duhoux (2013: 66) on semantic grounds. He also stresses the fact that a compound *συν-τροπή remains unattested in Greek.

This form is only found in the Iliad and can be explained as an athematic aorist of the IE root *gem- (LIV2 186). Note that this interpretation supposes the palatalisation of ge into ze, which is possible in Mycenaean (Risch & Hajnal 2006: 255–256; Bernabé & Luján 2006: 118–120), although Méndez (1991–1993) attributes it to a preceding sibilant rather than to the e. Méndez’s hypothesis implies e-ze-to = ἔσχετο, which is less felicitous from a semantic perspective (‘hold for him/herself’, ‘was held’). Ultimately, the interpretation of -ze-to in PY Vn 130.1 as an athematic middle root aorist or present ζέστο/ζέστοι of ζέω ‘boil’ proposed by Melena (2014b: 218) poses insurmountable morphological problems, since there are no parallels either in Greek or in other IE languages for such athematic formations within the paradigm of this verbal root (see LIV2 312–313 on *i̯es-).

The man’s name to-qi-da-so (PY Fn 324.23) is most probably a Prehellenic name in -(σ)σος unrelated to to-qi-de.

On the interpretation and meaning of the perfect participle qe-qi-no-me-na and the verbal adjective qe-qi-no-to, see García-Ramón (1999a). On the meaning of the perfect participle a-ja-me-na, see García-Ramón (1995), whose etymological proposal entails psilosis (< *seh2- ‘bind, attach’) despite the aspirate of o-pi-i-ja- /opihiā/ (KN Sd passim and Sf 4428.a), another Mycenaean representative of the root *seh2-. The underlying verb *αἶμι ‘inlay’ might be an Anatolian loanword (Jiménez 2008: 8–9).

‘ὅ ἔχει *τόρπωι « ciò ha per la pigiatura »’.

The Mycenaean iterative-causative implies that the causer makes the causee turn (himself), i.e., τρέπεσθαι, which is a body motion middle (Allan 2003: 76–77).

There are two other processes, po-ro-ko-wa and e-pi-ko-wa, which apply to small secondary quantities of oil; see Melena (1983: 111–112) and DMic. I 225 & II 148. Both po-ro-ko-wa and e-pi-ko-wa are action nouns deriving from χέ(ϝ)ω ‘pour’.

Enfleurage is the process of capturing the fragrant compounds of plants by using odorless fats. It can involve either boiling or cold steeping.

Ruijgh (1968) was the first to identify to-qa / to-ro-qa with the production of perfume by stirring the mix of cold oil and fragrance. Nevertheless, stirring is not necessary in cold enfleurage; cf. Erard-Cerceau (1990), who prefers to understand to-qa / to-ro-qa as equivalent to τροφή, thus referring to oil produced for cooking. The problem is that τρέφω belongs to a verbal root *dhrebh- ‘condense, curdle’ without labiovelar stop (LIV2 153–154). Finally, Melena (1983: 107 and 111 n. 78) mentions the possible connection of to-qa / to-ro-qa with to-ro-qo, though both terms probably belong to different roots (see above).

According to Ruijgh (1968: 706–707), τρέπω designates a change of direction, while στρέφω designates a circular motion. Furthermore, he considers that τρέπω stems from *terk-/*trek-, rather than from *trep-, and that, in Mycenaean, it preserved the meaning of turning around which is customary of στρέφω in the first millennium.

As one reviewer points out, *stregu̯h- has an initial sibilant that makes it fairly distinguishable from *trep- and *terk-. However, the initial sibilant is not so distinctive in Ancient Greek, since roots beginning with a consonant can alternate forms with and without it, the so-called s-mobile or s-movable (Giannakis 2015); cf. σκίδναμαι, κίδναμαι ‘spread over’, στέγος, τέγος ‘roof, house’, στέρφος, τέρφος ‘skin’, etc.


Ruijgh (1968) was the first to identify to-qa / to-ro-qa with the production of perfume by stirring the mix of cold oil and fragrance. Nevertheless stirring is not necessary in cold enfleurage; cf. Erard-Cerceau (1990) who prefers to understand to-qa / to-ro-qa as equivalent to τροφή thus referring to oil produced for cooking. The problem is that τρέφω belongs to a verbal root *dhrebh- ‘condense curdle’ without labiovelar stop (LIV2 153–154). Finally Melena (1983: 107 and 111 n. 78) mentions the possible connection of to-qa / to-ro-qa with to-ro-qo though both terms probably belong to different roots (see above).

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Mycenaean words related to τρέπω and στρέφω

A story of conflation

in Indo-European Linguistics




Ruijgh (1968) was the first to identify to-qa / to-ro-qa with the production of perfume by stirring the mix of cold oil and fragrance. Nevertheless stirring is not necessary in cold enfleurage; cf. Erard-Cerceau (1990) who prefers to understand to-qa / to-ro-qa as equivalent to τροφή thus referring to oil produced for cooking. The problem is that τρέφω belongs to a verbal root *dhrebh- ‘condense curdle’ without labiovelar stop (LIV2 153–154). Finally Melena (1983: 107 and 111 n. 78) mentions the possible connection of to-qa / to-ro-qa with to-ro-qo though both terms probably belong to different roots (see above).

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