March 18, 2013


What could be the etymology of lde mig (“key”)? Has anyone thought about it? I am just reading an article by Karma-tshe-ring, with the title rGyal rong skad las byun ba’i brda rnying dang gna’ bo’i bod kyi yi ge’i klog stangs skor la rags tsam dpyad pa in Bod kyi yig rnying zhib ’jug. Beijing: Mi-rigs-dpe-skrun-khang, 2003, pp. 715–721. According to the article, in rGyal-rong language (i.e. even without an army of the rGyal-rong people, it seems to be indeed a “language,” and not just a “dialect”), the word for the “eye” (mig/myig) is de myig. Interesting, isn’t it? The rGyal-rong word for “eye” seems to be an “eye-opener” for seeing the etymology of the word lde mig! So it seems that the Tibetan word for “key” (lde mig) has actually been derived or is linked with the regional Tibetan rGyal-rong word for “eye” (de myig). One may thus say that “keys” are “eyes” (or optical instruments) that help sentient beings to gain physical or visual access to entities or realities, and “eyes” are “keys” that open the door to a manifold world of appearance.
As it now turns out (see Dan’s comments below), someone somewhere has already pondered over it! Thanks Dan for pointing out the references including his own entry on lde mig. At any rate, prima facie at least, it makes sense of what Matisoff has suggested (i.e. that the key was conceptually equated with the wedge), particularly if we consider the syllable/word lde or lde’u in lde/lde’u mig. So a possible etymology of lde/lde’u mig would be that it is “a wedge (lde/lde’u) that could be wedged into an eye or opening (mig) of something (to open the door of that thing).” Or, perhaps “keys” are simply “eyes” (or instruments that enable visual access to things).


  1. Dear D,

    Yes, *very* interesting. Isn't the "de" in Gyarong Ké a kind of definite article or something? I don't know. It came to my mind that maybe "de" could be short for de-pho, or the male counterpart of the hen. That way maybe the Tibetan word for key might mean 'cockeyed.' I did make a reference somewhere to an article about the words for 'key' in Tibeto-Burman languages. Maybe if someone could get a look at that (I don't remember much of what it said), it could clarify things somehow.


    PS: Here's that entry...

    •LDE MIG For interesting historical and etymological arguments about words for 'key,' see for example, Laurent Sagart, Discussion Note: Reply to James A. Matisoff's "A Key Etymology," Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area, vol. 17, no. 1 (Spring 1994), pp. 167-168. Matisoff had argued that the key was conceptually equated with the wedge. The usual Sanskrit word for 'key' is kuñcikā, a word that was borrowed by many SE Asian languages.

    I guess wedges are also stuck into cracks, as are some other things I can think of. I have to stuff a mop-rag under my cabin door to keep the flies from coming in and buzzing on my face. I'll be coming out of retreat before too long. I wonder if I should keep my long beard or not.

  2. Much to my shagreen, I see that the Matisoff article is up in PDF on the internet. You can find two articles on the subject of the key if you search for them on this page:

    I think you can find the Sagant article as well somewhere. I'm not sure if he actually concerns himself with the Tibetan word.

    Ka-ru, ke-ru, ke'u etc. are the words I can find that are supposed to mean 'wedge.'