February 13, 2021

An Etymology of the Tibetan Word for Cave

In my mother tongue (i.e. Tshangs-lha), the word for “to open” is phegs as in “to open the door” (sko phegs). But because there is no system of writing, one cannot always know how it would be spelled. But in this case, I think a probable spelling would be phegs. Perhaps one could assign four different forms to it: ’pheg (future), pheg (present), phegs (past), and phegs (imperative). I speculate that this is very close to Tibetan phigs as in phigs par dka’ ba (Sanskrit: durbheda), which means “difficult to pierce/penetrate” both literally (physically) and figuratively (cognitively). One might object that Tshangs-lha phegs means “to open” and Tibetan phigs means “to pierce/penetrate.” So how can the two be similar? The Tibetan phigs in the sense of “to pierce/penetrate” also seems to have the connotation of “to split open.” The Tibetan phigs also seems to be cognate with ’bigs/’big (present). The future form being dbug, past phug, and imperative phug. It also seems to be reasonable to assume that the Tibetan word for “cave” (phug) is derived from the verb phug. A “cave” is “a pit/hole/hollow/grotto that is dug” (in rocks, cliffs, ground, etc.). Perhaps the verb “to dig” (e.g. a hole) in Tshang-lha may be spelled as ’byegs (somewhat analogues to Tibetan ’bigs).


  1. Dear D, Nice to see you crawling out of your cave. Is winter over? Is it Groundhog's day yet? Anyway, I'm sure you're right that there is one big cluster of words involved here, what I was wondering is if you think the syllable bag, as in bag la nyal, might fit in there somewhere. Oh, and what about the usage of that form phugs with its final 's'? Be well. Yours, D

    1. Dear Dan, thanks a lot for your interest. A loyal reader of oft wild speculations. Yes, incidentally the Tshangs-lha word for “to dig” (e.g. to dig a field for cultivation) is indeed “bag” and hence it would fit somewhere, but am not sure how exactly. I am also not sure if the final s is necessary here. Yours, D.

  2. I was also wondering if phu, as the less accessible 'inner' part of the river valley might be in the same concept-network, but then again, what about 'bu, for burrowing bugs? We're in this world just a little while to try and find the reasons why.
    PS: phigs par dkar ba > phigs par dka' ba.

  3. Thanks also for the correction. You mean “phu” as opposed to “mda’” but I do not have the faintest idea for now.