May 15, 2016


I would have never thought that the Tibetan word khyim (“house”) has something to with the verb “to encircle.” William Woodville Rockhill (i.e. The Life of the Buddha and the Early History of His Order. Derived from Tibetan Works in the Bkah-Hgyur and Bstan-Hgyur. Followed by Notices on the Early History of Tibet and Khoten. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1884 [= 1907], p. 5, n. 1), has, however, precisely suggested that. That is, khyim has been probably derived from ’khyims pa, which means skor ba (Tshig mdzod chen mo, s.v.) “to encircle.” He also points out its connection with gṛha, the Sanskrit word for “house” or “home,” which is said to derived from its root grah (“to embrace”). We should also perhaps think of the English words “grab”  or “grasp” or “grip.” This, according to him, would lead us to suppose that khyim was coined only after the introduction of Buddhism. But should this be necessarily the case? I personally do not think so. I also see that khyim can be found in OTDO.


  1. khyim is generally compared with words meaning "house" in other languages of the Trans-Himâlayan family (see this list from STEDT for instance). 'khyims means "halo" (nyi 'khyims, zla 'khyims), and the verb 'khyims, which is poorly attested, appears from the tshig mdzod chen mo example to refer to rays of light too (I don't know if you know of good textual attestations of this word). Hence, although the derivation from "encircle" > "habitation" is not implausible in itself, it is not applicable here I think. (BTW, skt gṛha- is completely unrelated to the root gṛbh-, as shown by young avestan gərəda- "Behausung daeuuischer Wesen", and comes from proto-IIr. *gṛdhá-., though of course what matters for a calque in Tibetan is how the late tradition understood the etymology of these words).

  2. Thanks for the comments. I am not a linguist and hence cannot competently say anything to verify or falsify what Rockhill mentioned in a note. I have’t looked for textual attestations either. But the suggestion that khyim “house” is related with ’khyims “encircle” seems still attractive. The meaning “halo” may be secondary. Someone with a “halo” is one who is “encircled” by rays of light. A house would be perhaps understood as a locus “encircled” by walls, for example. The word khyim in khyim bcu gnyis may also be understood as “circle” or “cycle”? It is true that we shall have to trace more cases of ’khyims used as a verb.

  3. Hi Dorji, I wonder if you have anything to say about a subject that's been interesting me lately. It's not just that Paris puts me in a romantic mood. I've been reading a short article by David Smith called "Kissing in Kâvya, with Special Reference to Kâlidâsa's Kumiarasambhava (Cracow Indological Studies vol. 7, 2005). He says the Sanskrit words are ghrâ & cumbana. They say India knew something like 'sniff kissing' where it's more like you're taking in the scent of another person, perhaps a close relative. It's affectionate, but not much erotic. But then there is the kind that's more passionate where imbibing and even biting might come into play. Doesn't the Tibetan word tsum/-pa sometimes mean 'kiss', and perhaps 'o-byed-pa also? I was wondering about the etymologies and precise meanings of those and any other Tibetan words for kissing might be, so I thought Philologia Tibetica would be the right address to turn to for answers.
    Your D