May 30, 2019

སྐད་གོ་འདུན། སྐད་གོ་མདུན། སྐད་གོ་བདུན། སྐད་གོ་འཐུན། སྐད་གོ་མཐུན།

The Mahāvyutpatti contains Tibetan subtitles assigned to groups of Sanskrit words with their Tibetan renderings arranged according to a certain criterion. One such subtitle is an expression spelled in five different ways, namely, as skad go ’dun (Ishihama, no. 6240, no. 6851 according to DCN, no. 5070 according to L, no. 9435 found only in N); skad go bdun (no. 4952); skad go mdun (no. 6851 according to P); skad go mthun (no. 5070 according to PNDC); skad go ’thun (Sakaki, no. 5072). This situation invokes several questions. Because not all spelling can be correct, which spellings are more probable and which less? What does the expression mean? Even if we know vaguely know the intended meaning of the expression what could be the etymology of the expression? Peter Verhagen has followed the spelling skad go ’dun (without any comments) and rendered skad go ’dun gyi ming as “assorted terms” (Verhagen 2001: vol. 2, p. 27). The five different spellings can be reduced to two groups, namely, to skad go ’dun/mdun/bdun and skad go ’thun/mthun. We can easily eliminate bdun as a corruption caused by confusion. Possibly ’dun and mdun are cognates. As for ’thun and mthun, these seem to be acceptable orthographic variants. Verhagen is most probably right. We should read skad go ’dun and it should mean something like “miscellaneous terms.” The question is why? Firstly, we should most probably read skad go-’dun and not skad-go ’dun. Secondly, although skad go ’dun does not seem to be lexically attested or recorded elsewhere, go ’dun has been recorded in the Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v.  go ’dun). Importantly, the entry is marked as rnying (“archaic”). The word is said to mean (1) gang mos (“random/arbitrary”), (2) sna tshogs (“various/miscellaneous”), (3) ’dag rdzas (“soap”), and (4) tshogs pa or ’du ba (“accumulation/collection”). All meanings except third would suit our context. The meanings provided by the Tshig mdzod chen mo are also confirmed by bTsan-lha’s gSer gyi me long (s.vv. go ’dun & go ’thun). According to this work, we can also accept go ’dun and go ’thun as orthographic variants. This is by no means surprising. We have been told that in old Tibetan documents, the first three letters of the same Tibetan alphabetic section (varga: sde pa) can be changeable without affecting the meaning. I suspect that also thun in stong thun is somehow related to our ’dun/’thun. So it turns out that skad go ’dun/’thun should mean something like “miscellaneous/arbitrary collection of terms.”
         The etymology of go ’dun/’thun, however, is uncertain. I speculate that go here is to be understood as in the case of go skabsgo mtshams, and go ’phang and it means something like “occasion, location, and position” and here perhaps as “random/arbitrary with regard to time, place, and context.” As for ’dun and ’thun, I surmise that they are nominalized forms of ’du ba (“to assemble”) and ’thu ba (“to hand-pick, to select”). The expression go ’dun/’thun may be etymologically understood as “random/arbitrary collection/selection.”


  1. Dear D, I'm back at home and wondering if you didn't already discuss this term before?
    The trip back was uneventful, which is always good. It was like walking on air.
    But as for the phrase itself, I'm still scratching my head.

    1. Dear Dan, it was great having you here (albeit only briefly). Thank you for taking the trouble. Yes, I felt I had written something on the term but was perhaps too lazy to dig it up.