August 24, 2012


I hope Dan and I are not washing dirty linen in public. I am reproducing here Dan’s private mail here which contains some questions and reflection on the Tibetan word ga’u:  

“Of what is ga’u a diminutive? It would have to be “ga,” right?  What is this ga? Any idea? (I'm wondering because in one account of royal (as well as the kalpa’s) origins, the sky and earth need to be separated, and they are compared to a ga’u. I hesitate to translate it as amulet box, but then how to translate it? Haarh just translates it as ‘box,’ which could be OK, I guess....  I’ve recently been reading a 5th-century Greek-Egyptian’s book, and he very clearly sees the world as a box, more like a shoebox, really, with the heavens divided off from the earth...). (As you can see, translating is doing things to me.)”

While the meaning is clear, frankly speaking, I have not an iota of an idea about what ga (from which diminutive form ga’u, if at all, has been derived) could mean. Perhaps ga’u is a loanword that we do not know?


  1. Dear D,

    Good morning!

    Actually, I found that the Btsan-lha dictionary has ga-bu as an equivalent of ga'u. But I've made a note on only one instance of usage: nang rtsi phyi ru gsal ba shel gyi ga bu lta bu. Zhi-byed Coll. II 482.5. It is like a crystal ga-bu that shows the inner essence on the outside.

    I thought it might make sense to be a diminutive of gan, which is to say a reduction of a hypothetical *gan-bu. Then it would mean a little treasury. But then why would the nasal disappear? That wouldn't make sense, would it? Nasals don't just up and walk out on us when we need them.

    Cosmas Indicopleuthes, the first Mediterranean to give a description of the yak, was the Greek-speaking Alexandrian who believed the world was a box. He traveled as far as Sri Lanka, but most of his book is filled with his cosmological arguments. He was totally unable to think outside the box, so to speak, which makes him an interesting case.

    I've found via the index that Haarh's book (The Yar-lun Dynasty, especially chap. 15) has lots of instances of the word ga'u in descriptions of imperial burials.


  2. Dear D,

    Maybe it's some kind of reduced-down form of sgam-chung, a small box or something like that. I don't know of instances of [s]gam-bu to mean small box, do you? I give up. Are there some more words to etymologise, or did you think of all of them already? Does rnga-mong mean a Mongol drum?