March 04, 2012


so pa:

Notably so pa in Tibetan means “spy” but one wonders how old this word is and what its etymology could be. It will have to be seen if so pa occurs in translated literature. Jäschke considers bso to be an orthographic variant of so (in our given context). Inspired by this, we could assume that so, bso, and gso are cognates. If we take these to be verbs then, so/gso/bso could be said to mean to “enliven/revive,” “nourish/nurture/foster,” “guard/safeguard,” “keep an eye on,” “spy on,” and so on. Thus so pa is “one who keeps a watch on (someone or something).” Actually so pa is comparable to Yiddish/German “Schmieresteher” (lookout). 

We may also have to consider the meaning of so in so gtong ba “to harden (e.g. earthen ware) by heating and cooling” from which so phag (“brick”) is derived.


  1. I hadn't thought about it, but so-pa could really be a loanword, couldn't it! Michael Aris in his Sources on the History of Bhutan, defines rgya-drung like this:

    "government officials appointed to control the frontier districts bordering on India; the 'subha,' 'soubah,' etc. of British records."

    On the other hand we *do* have the border watchtower meaning of that pukkah Old Tibetan word so-kha, as in these examples:

    •SO KHA Klinge. Kaschewsky2. bya ra byed pa. Nomads 252.
    •SO KHA'I MKHAR dgra la so ba ste bya ra byed pa'i sa mtshams kyi mkhar. Dpe-chos 506. = so mkhar
    •SO KHA'I MKHAR BU ngal gso sa'i 'khar rgyug. Btsan-lha.
    •SO MKHAR so mkhar rem du srungs shig. Zhi-byed Coll. III 13.2. Watchman's outpost fort.

    Hmmm. Still thinking to myself. Sorry.


  2. Everyone, I am afraid, is thinking to oneself. :) Thanks any way. If so pa = bso pa, then I think it need not be a loanword. But who knows! I remember have seen an instance in which “spy“ in translated literature is bya ma rta. That is, not just a messenger but a spy. We need to look into it carefully.