January 17, 2016

ཁྱེར། གྲོང་ཁྱེར། ཁ་ཁྱེར། སྤྱན་ཁྱེར། མེ་ཁྱེར།

The Tibetan word or syllable khyer occurs either as the first or second component of a disyllabic word. Such words, however, seem rather rare. I see that I have already been speculating about the etymology of khyer in such words for quite sometime. A renewed attempt will be made here to speculate about a few disyllabic words that have khyer as its second component. First, I have initially suggested the etymology of the word grong khyer “city” as a large “village” (grong), where commodities are “carried to” (khyer) for commercial transaction.  I have long retracted this speculation. Pavel Grokhovski has once pointed out the etymology of khyer suggested in the Illuminator as a contraction of khyim and ra ba. The Illuminator in this regard is neither original nor illuminating. It has been suggested by the Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v. khyer), which provides one of the meanings of khyer as khyim dang ra ba. Based on this, one might speculate that grong khyer actually means a “spatial unit (khyer) of houses (grong = krong = khyim) enclosed/encircled by surrounding walls (ra ba).” Second, let us consider kha khyer. The word seems to be used at least in two senses. The first older meaning seems to be a “cover” or “lid.” This is supported by two different sources. See dMu-dge-bsam-gtan et al. (Saṃ bod skad gnyis shan sbyar gser gyi phreng mdzes. Lanzhou: Kan-su’u-mi-rigs-dpe-skrun-khang, 1989, p. 714), where the Sanskrit is given as mukhabandhana which is supposed to mean “‘top-fastening,’ a lid, cover, … ‘head-composition,’ introduction, preface” (MW, s.v.). The Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v. khyer) provides khang thog (“roof”) as the third meaning of khyer, which is said to be archaic. To be noted is that also “roof” is a kind of “cover” or “lid.” The second perhaps later meaning of kha khyer is almost in the sense of khar khyer (or khas khyer). Note that kha khyer gyis (adverbial phrase)  also seems o have the meaning of “ostensibly, purportedly,” literally perhaps “conveying by means of [mere] mouth/speech” (e.g. Tshig mdzod chen mo: gzhung don kha khyer gyis sger don sgrub pa). Worth noting is kha, which seems to have several meanings: (a) “mouth/speech” (irrelevant here), (b) “face/surface” or “cover” or “lid” (relevant here) and (c) also relevant here is “a square unit/measure (of area)” (as in ras kha gang), and so on. As a note on the word khyer, I also wonder if it has the meaning of “to outline or trace/draw (e.g. a line/border)” and if kha khyer would literally mean “a unit of enclosed/encircled area,” which is still close to its meaning “cover” or “lid.” Third, the word spyan khyer in the sense of a label (with the title, etc.) of a Tibetan book may be connected with the secondary meaning of mukhabandhana (“‘head-composition,’ introduction, preface”) that we have seen above. Although prima facie “visual guide” may seem to be the etymology of spyan khyer, it could possibly  also have the meaning of “visual field/area/periphery.” Fourth, what about the etymology of me khyer (“glowworm or firefly”)? Of course, it would seem that the most natural way to understand it would be as “fire-carrier.” But the most obvious etymology may not always be the most correct one. Could it be possible that me khyer actually means “one with a fire periphery/rim” or “one with a patch/label of fire”?


  1. Dear D., I'm still puzzled after reading all of these ruminations, and am not sure if any explanation has taken place, or if the sense of the syllable khyer has even begun to dawn on me. Usually grong-khyer (Skt. nagara) is understood as bigger than a grong (Skt. grâma), and unlike the grong containing all 18 of the professional craftsmen (metal workers, wood workers, etc. etc.). But being puzzled is the natural state of the sangsaric mind, so I'll try and get used to it, as I have been.

    I should add that the version of the Rgya bod tshig mdzod chen mo that has English (i.e., the Bod dbyin tshig mdzod chen mo), at p. 343, has this entry for khyer: [1] Imperative of 'khyer ba. [2.1] khyim dang ra ba: dwelling, perimeter. Examples: kha khyer/ railing (vedikâ), grong khyer/ city, khyer gzhan gyis bar ma bcad pa/ not blocked off by another dwelling. [2.2] (rnying) khang thog/ roof.
    At least two old-style glossaries of obsolete terms give the meaning of khyer as khang thog, or 'roof.'
    I'm off to my Tuesday class.
    Yours, D.

  2. Dear D, thanks. Yes I also think that grong, grong khyer, grong brdal, and the like are differentiated in the Vinaya sources. Warm wishes from icy HH.