January 18, 2012

ཕུག། བུ་ག།

phug, bu ga:

“To bore a hole” in Tibetan is ’big(s)/’bug(s)/phig/phug pa (present); phigs/phug (perfect); dbig/dbug (future); phig(s)/phug (imperative). A number of words containing (a) phug pa (or phug in compund) and bug pa or bu ga (or bug in compound) have been derived from this verb “to bore a hole.” (a) Some words that mean “grotto” or “cavern” are brag phug, dben phug, sa phug, ri phug, and sgrub phug. (b) Note also mchan phug “arm-pit” and lgang phug “bladder” (called because of its capiciousness). What could be the etymology of la phug “raddish”? Perhaps “something (like a peg) that bores a hole in a hill slope”? (c) Note also rtsig bug = rtsig pa’i bu ga (“hole in the wall”); sna bug = sna’i bu ga (“nostril”); sa bug = sa yi bu ga (“a hole in the earth/soil).”


  1. Jamyang Norbu mentions la phug as a word borrowed from Chinese:

    "Tibetans in the past readily accepted Chinese terms for the various vegetables and culinary items that came to us from China, as for instance, luopuo (radish, Tib. labuk), cong (onion, Tib. tsong), hong luopuo (carrot, Tib. gung-labuk) and all the leafy vegetables: baicai, qincai, jiucai, even retaining the correct Chinese pronunciation in these cases. The Chinese term cai (Tib. tsay) has now become a fully Tibetan word (although we have a native term for “greens” ngo), as have Chinese terms for vinegar (cu), chopper (caidao), chopstick (kuaizi) and so on. On this score no indignant Tibetan scholar has insisted on creating equivalent Tibetan terms. When it comes to food Tibetans (even rabid nationalists) have no problem with China or the Chinese language".

  2. Dear Pavel,

    Thank you so much for drawing our attention to this. They look all very plausible.



  3. But the phug-related words form such a large group, I tend to doubt they're not already firmly embedded in earliest times. Surely not to be explained as loanwords from recent historical times. You also have the related-meaning terms phu & phugs to take into account. And how do you understand the word for 'pigeon,' phug-ron?

  4. I wonder how you will respond to the etymological speculations in footnote number 9 in this. I'm thinking that the idea that the phug in la-phug is the same as the phug that pops up elsewhere in Tibetan is an illusion. If la-phug is truly a borrowing, then it wouldn't belong in the set of internal Tibetan derivations, would it? I think its implications for etymology are rendered practically nil. I'm off to make hay while the sun still shines!

  5. I find the etymological speculations regarding phug in mdzod phug, and particularly the possibility that phu, phug, and phugs could be cognates, very stimulating and sound plausible. Possibly phug in the sense of “cave” or “grotto” itself might be secondary, the primary meaning being something like “mine” or “ore” or “origin,” and hence by extension “a trove.” mDzod phug perhaps meant something like “treasure trove”?

    I do not necessarily consider a word being a loan word and having an indigenous (folk or speculative) etymology to be contradictory and mutually exclusive. Even when borrowing a foreign word, an autochthonous folk etymology could have been given. A good example is the folk etymology of German “Hängematte” or “Guten Rutsch.” Although such a folk etymology would not necessarily represent a linguistically accurate etymology, it is still an etymology given (often consciously or mistakenly) by those who coined the orthography in the target language. Thus la phug might have been borrowed, but I think that Tibetans could have adopted an orthography with a semantic content rather than a sense-less phonetic rendering. Both Chinese and Tibetans did in the past and and seem to be doing now, although it is discouraged at least in Tibetan. E.g. bka’ lon spong for Kalimpong.

    1. bka’ lon = bka’ blon

    2. Ka-ling-spug is a common way to spell Kalimpong in Tibetan. And Goldstein gives Ka-lon-sbug. So spug is the spelling here. But is it a Tibetan name to begin with?

      Tibetans make their own spelling-etymologies of Bya-rung-kha-shor and 'Phags-pa-shing-kun (both Newar names in reality for Bodhanath and Swayambhu, I understand, not knowing much Newar, although I sure wish I did).