There are hundreds of Latin words in all European languages and we can easily trace their origins back to the times when Roman legions were paving the way for the civilization as we know it. However, in this article, we will focus on the trully ancient vocabulary, and try to see why are so many of these “Indo-European” words shared between Latin and Slavic languages.
NOTE: This is by no means a definitive list, and I will keep updating this article. Also, the Slavic words are based on the Serbian language, but most of these words are common for all Slavs. A few words come from Russian and Bulgarian as they do no longer exist in modern Serbian.
A few basic terms
MARE – MORE (SEA) IGNEUS – OGANJ (FIRE) ULIGO – VLAGA (HUMIDITY) NEBULA-NEBO (CLOUD-SKY)
MUS – MISH (MOUSE) AGNIS – JAGNJE (LAMB), OVIS – OVCA (SHEEP) CABALLUS – KOBILA (HORSE) MUSCA – MUSICA (FLY)
OCULUS – OKO (EYE), POLLEX – PALAC (THUMB), CRUOR – KRV (BLOOD), OS – USTA (MOUTH), PED – PETA (FOOT/FEET)
MOLO – MLETI (MILL, TO GRIND) STO – STOJATI (TO STAND), SEDEO – SEDETI (TO SIT), VIDEO – VIDETI (TO SEE), ITIO – ICHI (TO GO) SECCARE – SECHI (TO CUT), PROSECO – PRESECHI (TO CUT OFF)
LAEVUS – LEVI (LEFT) DOMUS – DOM (HOME) TU – TI (YOU), TIBI – TEBI (TO YOU) OLEUM – ULJE (OIL) PRAE – PRE (BEFORE), PROD – PRED (IN FRONT), PROVIDUS – PROVIDJENJE (PROVIDENCE) CASTUS – CHIST (PURE), CASTITAS – CHESTITOST (MORAL PURITY) VOLUNTAS – VOLJA (WILL) DIABOLOS – DIAVOL (DEVIL) CUPA – ćUP – CUP, URCEUS – VRC (JUG), SUCUS – SOK (JUICE, RESIN), GRANUM – ZRNO (GRAIN)
POLIS (CITY) – POLJE (FIELD)
This is where it gets really interesting. In Latin “Polis” means “city”, but in Slavic “polje” means “field”. Constantinople, for example, is “Konstantinopolj” in Slavic and these words are obvious cognates. However, the Roman goddess of pastures is “Pales“, which does not make any sense, unless related to the Slavic meaning of “field”.
SUUS, (but in gen, dat, voc and nom SVAE) – SVOJ (of oneself, belonging to oneself, his own, her own, his, her, its, their)
SUM – SAM (I AM), EST – JESTE (IT IS)
In both of these words, we see that Slavic form is more complex, as “sam” is just a short form of “jesam” (I am). It is therefore impossible that Slavs took this word from Latin.
VIVIR / VITA (TO LIVE / LIFE) – ZHIV / ZHIT
The sound “ZH” is typical for Slavic languages, although it survived in French and Portuguese as well. Latin did not have it, so it became “V”. It is possible that “ZH” becomes “V” but not vice-versa, meaning that the Slavic pronunciation is older.
Lux – Luch (Light), Nox – Noch (Night)
Now, we know that the letter “X” came to Latin via Greek “Chi“, where it was (apparently) pronounced as “Kh”. This means that if we read Latin with the original Greek pronunciation we get very close to Slavic words. (!) In Balkans, unlike in Russia and Ukraine, it is actually two sounds of different softness (Ч + Ћ). Also, it seems that this was not only a pre-Roman sound. It can still exist today in Italian and Spanish (ie. Buena noches in Spanish)
And while the etymology of the word “lux” in Latin is unknown, the Slavic one is related to the wood of the pine tree that is drenched in resin. When the wood is cut it excretes resin in order to heal itself. This type of wood is perfect for starting the fire, as it is easy to light and it burns for a very long time. The word for the resine is “luch”, and comes from “luchiti” which in Slavic means “to drench, secrete”. Obviously, this is the reason that the light is called “luch” in Slavic. Here is the Wikipedia article about luch (only in Serbian unfortunately).
Note that this type of parallel does not exist in Latin. The word resin has the same root as English – resina. But there is another Latin word – lac. The official etymology is on an image below.
Mach – Makh (Sword)
The Latin word “machaera” comes from the Greek Makhaira (μάχαιρα), which itself comes from the word mákhē, meaning “battle”. However, the Slavic word for sword is “mač“. Once again, we see that the Greek letter chi (X) corresponds to Slavic “ch” sound, just like in the example above with LUX and NOX.
Also, it could be that the English word “match” (as in football match) also comes from the Greek mákhē – battle. Official etymologies do not mention this theory, but if I am correct, it is just another proof that the Greek chi corresponds to sound “ch” and not “kh” as the scolars claim.
Caminus – Kamen (Stone hearth)
The Latin word Caminus, comes from the ancient Greek “kámīnos“. According to Wiktionary, the suffix “-ῑνος” is pre-Greek and the etymology is unknown. The only suggested connection is with Slavic kamen – stone, as the ancient hearths were made of stone.
Procus – Proci / Prosac – Prosci (Suitors)
The Latin word Procus (genitive Proci), meaning “wooer, suitor” actually comes from ancient Greek, and it is at least as old as the Odyssey. Namely, this was the term used for the suitors of Penelope in 750 BC.
The Indo-European root of this word, reconstructed as “Prek” is fairly common in many languages, from Sanskrit and Tocharian, to Indo-Aryan, Balto-Slavic and Celtic.
However, most of the modern derivates have undergone certain changes. In Slavic languages, however, the word is virtually unchanged – “prositi” means both “to ask” and “to propose”. At the same time, the term for suitors would be “prosci”, strikingly similar to the “proci” of the Odyssey.
Masculin – Muskarac (Male)
This two words are obviously related and belong to the same Indo-European corpus. However, we don’t really see this connection in etymological dictionaries. And still, apart from the rhotacism of the L-R sounds in the second silable, these words are virtually the same. Also, we may see this root in the name of the Iron age people from Anatolia, known as Mushki. (men) They in turn, have been identified as Phrygians, people whose roots were in the Balkans.
Humilis / Humus – Zemlya (Earth) and Homo – Zemljak (Human)
The words “humility” and “humiliation” come from the Latin “humilis“, which itself is derived from “humus” – “earth”. Modern scholars derive the word “humus” from the reconstructed PIE word *dʰéǵʰōm – “earth”, ignoring the fact that the Slavic word “Zemlya” is much closer. S and Z sounds were often replaced by the softer H, for example, “Sindu” – “Hindu”.
The idea behind this is that the humble (or humiliated) person is “down to earth”.
Moreover, the word “zemelos” existed in the Phrygian language, a language much older than Latin. It meant “human”, and scholars relate it to the same root – “humus”, earth. For this reason, the Phrygian earth-goddess was Semele, whose name also meant (mother) “Earth”.
The connection between the words “human” and “earth” (earthling) is very interesting, as it reminds us of the etymology of the name of the Biblical Adam.
Even in standard Arabic, a Semitic language, the root Z-M-L meant “modest, humble” and many Arabic names are derived from it. For example Zameel, Zamil, Zemeel, etc.
As the Phrygians were people who originated in the Balkans, but then migrated to Turkey and the Middle East, we can assume that the root of this word comes from their language. Interestingly, the only real cognate lies in the modern Slavic languages.