February 28, 2013


Here is a small spontaneous speculation for the morning coffee. We know words and phrases containing skad cig (ska cig seems archaic) “moment.” Before we come to it, consider English expressions such as “in the twinkling of an eye” or “in the wink of an eye” (consider also German “Augenblick”) and “in a snap of fingers.” In the Tibetan word for “moment,” cig seems more or less clear and it means “a” or “one” but what about skad or ska? Without laying claim to any definitive position, skad here could well mean “sound,” “tone,” or, “voice.” The idea behind seems to be that a “moment” is a very short duration/span of time equal perhaps to that of, for example, “a tweet/chirp” of a bird, or of a “snapping sound” of something. We can imagine the etymology of skad cig something like “a tick (e.g. of a clock)” (i.e. “tick” in the sense of “a regular short, sharp sound, especially that made every second by a clock or watch). At the moment, I cannot think of a better explanation. Any insight out there?


  1. Well, to quote Vasubandhu, one finger snap (se-gol) is supposed to be equal to 65 skad-cig-ma types of moments. So that would have to be a very brief sound. Is a snap of a finger longer than a tick of a clock? Probably...

    chos mngon pa rnams na re skyes bu stobs dang ldan pa'i se gol gtogs pa tsam gyis skad cig ma drug cu rtsa lnga 'da'o zhes zer ro | |

    The Sanskrit ought to be kṣana, and I think Rospatt has calculated its length to be .013 seconds, which is quite brief.

    According to my own calculations it would seem to be a little (well, not quite) like trying to calculate the value of Phi,* since it works out to be 0.01333333333.

    I'm feeling a little better today, I'm thinking.

    *not pie since everybody knows the value of that

  2. Dear Dan,

    Hope you are doing better now.

    Well, I prefer to relinquish trying to determine the temporal fractions expressed by skad cig gcig, thang gcig, and so on, found in the Abhidharma literature, which I am aware of. My concern here is thus not so much about the temporal length of skad cig gcig and the like but rather about the etymology of the word skad cig, particularly, of skad in the word. Somehow I felt that words such as “snap,” “chirp,” “tick,” and so on, express some kind of “sounds” and mostly very “brief sounds,” and thereby also suggesting “brief moments of time,” not, however, in technical Abhidharmic terms, but in a way that we use the word “moment” (or even “second”) in our day-to-day lives, as in “Hold on a second” or German “Moment mal!”

    Take care and with best wishes,


  3. So you're thinking that the 'k' in skad is itself a kind of clicking or ticking sound? Maybe onomatopoeic in origin?

  4. Dear D,

    I have no idea if skad is onomatopoeic in origin. My only feeling is that (as also in English or German) “moment of/in time” seems to be expressed by entities/events that have something to do “motion,” “rhythm,” and hence also with some kind of “sound/voice/tone” (skad). I am, of course, taking skad to be a quasi-synonym of sgra (again non-technically). Let us take a few examples. (a) Consider the word “snap” (i.e. not in a technical Adhidharmic sense) as in “in a snap of fingers.” The word snap (as a transitive/intransitive verb) is said to involve a “sharp cracking sound.” Important for me is that “motion” (of fingers), “sound/tone,” and hence “moments of time” are involved here. (b) Similarly the word “tick” is explained as “a regular short, sharp sound, especially that made every second by a clock or watch.” Here, too, “motion,” “sound, and hence “rhythm/moment of time” are involved. (c) Again if we take the word “beat” (as in heart-beat), it involves “motion,” ”sound,” and “temporal rhythm.” (d) Likewise in German, the word Takt seems to involve the same elements of “motion,” “sound,” and “temporal rhythm.”

    Thus, in my view, a motion-involving (or motion-based) rhythmic sound or resonance (skad) of something seems to have been used by Tibetans to express the idea of “moments/rhythms of time.”

    I am not so sure if I make sense. At any rate, thank you for your resonance!



  5. There's that one very strange correspondence between Zhangzhung language word klang (spelled variously as glang etc.) and the German Klang. The ZZ word, which means 'sound, declaration, speech' seems to share that 'kl' sound with click and clang and clock (all Germanic types of English words, aren't they?)...

    “The resemblance of this root to German Klang, ‘sound’ is amusing, but entirely fortuitous!” said the Tibeto-Burman linguist Matisoff about the Zhangzhung word.

    The ZZ word is most frequently glossed by Tibetan sgra.

  6. Indeed intriguing! Words such as “click” would serve my purpose, especially if we consider its dictionary meaning “a short, sharp sound as of a switch being operated or of two hard objects coming quickly into contact.” Perhaps we could say that the idea of a “moment of time” is expressed in phrases such as “with the click of a button” (i.e. within no time or instantaneously = skad cig gcig gis). Here, too, elements of “motion,” “sound,” and “moment” are involved.

    Consider the German word “Zack” for fun: “Zack, schon hatte die Maus das Stückchen Käse geklaut.” Many people suggested an English rendering of it (http://dict.leo.org), e.g. (a) “Bingo, the mouse had stolen the cheese in no time.” (b) “Before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’.”