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23 January 2006 @ 11:27 pm
Historical Linguistics; or, Methos is like PIE.  
There's been discussion about why there's so little meta discussion in HL fandom lately, so instead of actually posting to the discussions, I thought I'd pull this monster out of the folder where it's been moldering: I recently re-read lannamichaels's Methos story And Fray, which, by the way, is an amazing, atmospheric story that truly bears the weight of 5,000 years. But unfortunately, it got me thinking. It got me thinking about the meaning of Methos's name.

Now, IANAL (I Am Not A Linguist) but I did spent half of ninth grade carrying around a notebook with a hand-written Proto-Indo-European dictionary in it. And granted this is a lesson in futility since chances are lannamichaels is right and Methos was adopted into some tiny tribe whose language has been completely wiped out of memory, except for him. But I knew I'd be spending all night doing the research anyway (this is what I do for fun on a Friday night, folks), so I thought I might as well write it up to share.

Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Methos's Name.

Okay. First, words are made up of phonemes. A phoneme is a type of sound. Specifically, phonemes are sounds that speakers of a language recognize as being basic sounds in their language. For example, English speakers in different parts of the world might pronounce the word 'tar' so that it sounds completely different - but they would all hear it as containing the 't' phoneme and the 'ar' phoneme, so they would each recognize it as being one word, and not at all the same word as 'tire'. Each language divides up the range of possible human sounds into a set of limited phonemes. Japanese, for example, only has one phoneme to cover the sound of the two English phonemes 'l' and 'r', so Japanese speakers will not naturally distinguish between those sounds.

In languages with an alphabetic writing system, the sounds described by the alphabet usually correspond fairly well with the phonemes of the language, although not always exactly. English, for example, uses two letters together to represent the sound 'th'. But that's not all - 'th' actually represents two different phonemes in English: the sounds that used to go with the letters þ and ð. þ is like the 'th' sound in the word 'thin'; ð is like the 'th' sound in the word 'then', and is sometimes transcribed from other languages as 'dh'. Try saying 'thin' and 'then', but swapping their initial sounds - most native English speakers should be able to tell that they 'sound wrong', even if they've never noticed the difference in the 'th's before. Every language I'm going to be discussing here has its own set of phonemes, and none have exactly the same set as English. Real linguists use a special alphabet to represent all these different phonemes and their sounds; I'm just going to go seat-of-my-pants with ASCII.

Methos's name contains these five phonemes: 'm', 'ee', 'th' (-as in thin), 'o', and 's'. At least, to the ears of this native English speaker who heard it a few times over a bad cable connection, that's what it sounds like - if anyone who's actually done more HL watching than reading wants to chime in on the nuances of pronunciation, please do!

Now, the very coolest thing linguists do is reconstructing languages. That is, they use the knowledge that we have of related modern languages to reconstruct the ancient languages that they all evolved from, even when there is no recorded example of the original language to work from. And they can do this with an amazing level of replicability. The way it works is that a linguist will take a word that sounds similar in a bunch of different languages. Take the easy one: 'Father' in English is 'pater' in latin. 'Foot' in English is 'pedum' in Latin. Each of these pairs means the same thing and sounds more-or-less alike, so there are probably words in their common ancestor languages that mean about the same and sound about the same.. Even better, though, the differences are *consistent* - in each word, the 'f' sound in English corresponds to the 'p' sound in Latin. Therefore, you can deduce that in the original language they both borrowed from, there is a sound that usually becomes 'f' in English and usually becomes 'p' in Latin, and extend this out to other words. By taking a whole bunch of sets of similar words like this in a whole bunch of different languages, linguists can 'reconstruct' the original language that all the other languages are built on - its phonemes, its basic vocabulary, even some simple grammar rules. All without having seen or heard a single word of the language itself.

Proto-Indo-European is such a reconstructed language. It is the language from which basically all the European languages (well, except Basque) and a large chunk of Central Asian and Indian languages are derived. By comparing the reconstructed language to archeological and cultural evidence, linguistic historians have concluded that Proto-Indo-European was spoken by somebody, probably living in the area of the Black Sea, probably about 7-5,000 years ago, probably tribes of semi-patriarchal semi-nomadic horsemen. (In fact, some people propose that the Kurgans were Proto-Indo-European speakers, but don't let's get started on the silliness of *that* Immortal's name.) Whoever they were, by a few thousand years later, nearly everybody in two continents was speaking some variety of their language. Any previously spoken languages (well, except Basque) have been pretty much completely lost. Also, Proto-Indo-European is abbreviated PIE. Everybody loves PIE.

Proto-languages have been reconstructed for many other language families; I know PIE best because it's where English comes from, and also because it's the one that was in the dictionary I read in middle school. Proto-Semitic dates to about the same time period and covers most of the Central Asian and North African languages that PIE doesn't. Some of those Semitic languages also have written records that go back almost five thousand years, which has in some cases kept them very close to their roots. I'm also going to try to look at Ancient (Middle) Egyptian, which is not a Semitic language, being related to sub-Saharan languages like Ethiopian, but does have written records tracing almost back to Methos's day.

Now, let's talk about the word Methos. I am going to assume for the sake of this essay that Methos is using essentially the same name that he was known by 5,000 years ago. Partly because the Watchers and Immortals have memory of that specific name going back many thousands of years. Partly because if I don't, the scope of this investigation becomes way too broad. And partly because there must be a *reason* Methos keeps using it - and if so, he's not likely to just drop a couple of syllables when they get unfashionable. On the other hand, I'm not going to be to picky about matching the sound exactly, particularly with vowels, especially with the reconstructed languages, because there's always a range of pronunciation, and the name that the long-nose-pale-face tribe pronounces as m-ee-th-o-s might be the same name that the black-hair-brown-eyes tribe pronounces m-eh-th-yu-s, and we just don't know that level of detail.


'Methos' sounds like a Proto-Indo-European word to me. It's not just that I love PIE, and it's not just my private theory that Methos grew up in the region of Skara Brae. It's partly that Methos looks like he comes from the Indo-European region (and it *seems* that Immortals are usually not noticeably out of place for their racial type) and that what little the show gives us of his background, particularly the raiders-on-horseback part, is very Indo-European. But it's mostly the sound of the name itself, which has no unfamiliar phonemes, stresses, or pitch, as it likely would if it were from a foreign language family. It even ends in -s, which is the standard ending for a masculine noun or name in PIE (as carried over into Greek and Latin). That means that we can take any PIE root and stick an -s on the end and pretend that that makes it a valid man's name (which is probably not quite that simple, but I like vocab much better than grammar - sue me.)

This PIE section is mostly based on the discussion and glossary of PIE that's in the back of the American Heritage dictionary, and available online at Bartleby.com; with grammar help from wikipedia.

The one problem is that standard PIE does not have a 'th'-as-in-thin phoneme. It does, however, have the 'dh'-as-in-then phoneme, which is really close enough for fandom work, since PIE speakers probably would not have made the distinction any more than most English speakers do. Taking that into account, there are actually two PIE roots that work very well as derivations for the name 'Methos'.

Medhyo-s is the ancestor of the English word 'middle'. Also of 'mediocre', 'mezzanine', 'Midgard' and a great many other words that speak of being in between. In PIE it probably just meant something along the lines of 'middle', but when I apply it to Methos my mind tries to tell me about things like liminal spaces, crossroads, the Twilight Zone, and where *do* people find Immortal babies, anyway?

Medhu-s has just become my favorite choice for the meaning of Methos's name. Medhu means 'honey'. But, since honey is pretty much the only sweetener available to nomadic tribesmen, it also means just plain 'sweet'. And since you need sweetener in order to get liquid to ferment, it *also* becomes the root word for a variety of alcoholic drinks, including the english word 'mead' and the greek word 'methu', wine. By way of the Greek it's also the source of the English word 'meth', as in 'methamphetamine'. Sticky, tasty, and alcoholic - what better name is there for our Methos? (And suddenly, I have a much higher tolerance for fics where Duncan calls him 'Honey' or 'Sweetheart' all the time q-: Just for randomness's sake, the Scots Gaelic word 'misg', derived from medhu, means 'drunk'. In general, across Western European languages, the 'sweet' meanings attatched themselves to the synonym melit; medhu got all the descendant-words referring to alcohol.)

(Even if the name *isn't* PIE, I have to suppose he'd have been just asking for puns on Medhu-s whenever he wandered into PIE territory!)

Now, you can go beyond that and try to derive the name from combination of several one-syllable roots, which is reasonable. One of the PIE proper names that's been reconstructed is 'Dyeu-pater', Sky-father. Things get more interesting, but also shakier, particularly since I have no idea what sound and grammar changes would happen in a name-compound. But just perusing the roots gets some interesting possibilities.

There are several roots, all verbs, that seem like they could work for the -thos syllable, given that a) the vowels shifted, and nobody is really sure what they were anyway, and b) the -s can be tacked on as a grammatical case marker.

This gives you: dhe, meaning to set or put; dhe(i), meaning to suck; dhes meaning to be holy; dhers, to be bold, to adventure; and dheu, meaning to flow, and to die, and to finish.

For me-, you have me which can be 'middle' again, or a first-person pronoun (oblique); mee, which is given several meanings: mood or something to do with feelings, measure, big, and mow as with a scythe; and mei, which can mean commerce, and can mean small.

My favorite compounds of these are me-dhe-s, 'suck me' (and yes, it had the same euphemistic meaning - dhe is a root of Latin fellatio) and me-dhes, 'I'm God', both of which I can see Methos giving to someone who insisted on knowing his name, and then being very amused when it stuck.

Then there's mee-dhes, 'he-who-cuts-the-gods-down-to-size' (or something about a holy scythebearer - Death, anyone?), and mee-dhers, 'bold of heart'. But there's some other good possibilities in there, too, if you play mix-n-match and get creative.

By the way, even if linguistics bores you to tears, if you're interested in Methos's childhood I *really* recommend spending a few minutes browsing through the Proto-Indo-European word list that's online at Bartleby's. Just click on a few roots and see where it takes you. The words there describe the things that were important five thousand years ago - everything that existed in the world, five thousand years ago. And by skimming the short etymologies, you can see how the words changed as the world around them grew, and maybe - maybe - get an inkling of what it must have been like to live through those five thousand years.

Trying to derive Methos from Ancient Egyptian is hampered by two main facts: there is no phoneme in Ancient Egypt that would have sounded much like th, and it's annoyingly hard to find good Ancient Egyptian language resources online. Also, as far as I can tell from the crappy word lists online, very few Egyptian roots ended with -s, so given that nobody (other than Daniel Jackson) is very sure what the vowels were, we're left with the m- as the only sound that's actually commonly found in the language.

But I did finally find a usable if skimpy word list, and there is the phoneme dy-, as in Djehuty who the Greeks called Thoth, and that's probably the best bet to start with. In fact, in order to make Methos work as an Egyptian name, I've kinda got to assume that it's a hellenized version of an original Egyptian name - the Greeks threw in lots of extra ths and eses, just ask poor Thutmosis (Thutmosis, that is to say Djehutymes, means 'Thoth bore him,' btw.) But that's almost breaking my own rules, and it makes the whole exercise mostly futile. Even so, I'm going to try, and probably do an awful job of it.

m- is 'in' and dy-s- is 'herself', so m-dy-s- would mean something along the lines of 'In herself' which is ... making me think strange thoughts along the lines of Metempsychosis.

s- means either she, or man. The best other possibility for getting an 's' sound at the end is s-sh-, which refers either to writing or scribes, or means 'alabaster'. Both of these could, I suppose, be descriptive of Methos in Egypt .. Then there's m-w-t, 'death', and m-'-t, 'truth', and a lot more m-*-t roots, which are all interesting, inasmuch as they don't sound much like Methos, and they don't make anything that sounds like an Egyptian name, and the -t ending is usually feminine in Egyptian anyway. dy-w-s is 'to denounce'; m-dy-w-s, then, might be something like 'in shame' or 'the man who was cast out' ... if anybody wants to do a less half-baked job of this, I will love you forever.

If the background given in The Methos Chronicles is accurate, then Methos was born into a small nomadic tribe in what would eventually be the Sahara. Our best chance is that his tribe was speaking some sort of proto-Semitic type language. (I haven't actually watched the Chronicles, and I don't personally count them as canon, but even so.) The obvious candidate for a Semitic origin is a derivation from Methusaleh, although we have it on good authority that Methos is not actually Methusaleh (and that he believes in the Flood, which is interesting in its own right and probably puts him back in Indo-European territory, but anyway.)

Assuming he either borrowed the name from Methusaleh or derived it from the same roots, what's it mean? Methusaleh is greekified from Hebrew Metuselech, and it's given several different etymologies. In fact, figuring out what Metuselech means is probably more of a project than figuring out Methos. But for what it's worth, the metu- syllable is usually given as 'man of', from the proto-Semitic root 'mt'. The selah part either means 'spear' or Selah, which is a title of Nanna the father of Ishtar in Babylonian mythology.

There's another newer derivation that takes the metu- from mut, to die, and selah from the verb shalach, 'it is sent'. This is supposed to be a reference to the Great Flood, 'death will be sent', but it seems to be a pretty shaky etymology. I suppose you could mix and match and get mut-selah, died by the spear, or met-shalach, man who was sent. Then there's the people who think that Methuselah is the same guy as Methusael ... and it just goes on from there. Part of the reason that I've yet to find a good Proto-Semitic resource on the web is that all of the ones designed for laypeople are pretty obviously contaminated by religious agendas, and the ones not designed for laypeople seem to all use custom fonts which I haven't figured out yet, because Semitic sounds are a lot different from Indo-European ones.

While neither Hebrew nor modern Arabic have a 'th' sound, for example, Proto-Semitic does. In fact, it seems to have four different phonemes (or maybe more, if you count the pharyngeals) that could pass for 'th', and I'm not even going to get started on the 's' variants. In fact, what little reading I've been able to find seems to indicate that Methos could be a proto-Semitic name. I just have no idea *what* Proto-Semitic name. But I'm really interested in finding out, now, and I'm going to keep my eye out for better resources.


Of course, there are plenty of other possibilities. The most likely one is that Methos's birth language died out, leaving no written record and no related languages. Or that he came from somewhere totally unexpected. But Proto-Indo-European and Middle Egyptian are the only 5,000-year-old languages that I know anything at all about - I'm leaving it up to somebody else to find out what 'Methos' means in Proto-Vasconic, Proto-Sino-Tibetan and ancient Sumerian.

And then there's always Mædhros the son of Fëanor of Valinor. (I have often wondered who gave JRR Tolkien his copy of the Red Book...)
 
 
Current Mood: confusedconfused
 
 
 
Sylvia Volksylviavolk2000 on January 24th, 2006 06:07 am (UTC)
great essay!
Scuse me, but are you the person who just swiped my university library's copy of Tolkien's "Beowulf and the Critics" out from under my nose? Because somebody checked it out before I got there, and you've just become my prime suspect.

On the Methos front, I'm quite willing to believe that he's the son of Feanor of Valinor.
Zigismunda formosa: ancientmelannen on January 24th, 2006 06:20 am (UTC)
Re: great essay!
Sorry, I've never managed to get so much as one little grimy finger on that book.

Not to say that I wouldn't have if I *could*. In fact, get me a copy of that book, the Book of Lost Tales Vol. 1, and, say, the Letters, (and also about a year to read them properly) and I'll finish the half-begun story where Methos is from Valinor and helps translate the Red Book. (And at some point, he loses his favorite Elvish shortsword, thereby giving me an excuse to finally write the line 'O Death, where is thy Sting?')
DarthHelloKittydarthhellokitty on January 24th, 2006 06:19 am (UTC)
Wow! This is the coolest language-meta I think I've seen ANYWHERE. I can't really say much intelligent about it, so you're just going to have to picture me saying in the Homer Simpson voice, "Mmmm, pie!"
Zigismunda formosa: bromoseltzermelannen on January 24th, 2006 06:36 am (UTC)
If I have given just one person a glimpse of the wonder that is PIE, then it was all worth it, indeed. Yes. mmm, PIE.
Mal: hl duende by qill13iconsmalnpudl on January 24th, 2006 06:39 am (UTC)
This is fascinating. Thank you for writing and posting it!
Zigismunda formosa: linguistmelannen on January 24th, 2006 06:54 am (UTC)
Thank you! Any day where I have an excuse to discuss the etymology of 'fellatio' is a good day.
keerawakeerawa on January 24th, 2006 06:54 am (UTC)
Well, I feel educated, amused, and quite quite confused. Somehow I missed the sentence about PIE being an abbreviation for Proto-Indo-European language and spent half of the article wondering why you thought Methos was associated with a tasty pastry. Chalk that up to lack of sleep, I guess.

I do believe my favorite part of your essay was the mental picture of the ROG introducing himself as "suck me" and/or "I'm God". Entirely in character. :-)
Zigismunda formosa: linguistmelannen on January 24th, 2006 07:14 am (UTC)
... maybe I should clarify that a little? Not that I *don't* like thinking of Methos with sweet, fluffy, fruity pastry ... yummm... give me a minute ... that might actually be why it was slightly unclear in the first place.
ubixtiz on January 24th, 2006 07:36 am (UTC)
This is cool. PIE is yummy. Medhu-s is an interesting option for the root of Methos; the alcoholic connections are particularly convincing. *g* The mix-and-match game is also fun. I wonder if one could interpret me-dheu-s as "between deaths."

It's perhaps worth noting that many th- words in later languages (such as your example, "thin,") are related to t- words in PIE, so in addition to the dh- suggestions you've given, we might want to consider "teu" (to swell, to be proud: derivatives include thousand and tumescent).
Zigismunda formosamelannen on January 24th, 2006 07:51 am (UTC)
I was purposely only looking at the PIE roots themselves, because a) my knowledge and time are, sadly, limited; and b) *over five thousand years*, man! If I started looking at daughter-languages we could end up *anywhere*! (I did start resorting to t- and d- roots in the non-PIE languages, though, for lack of better options.)

On the other hand, anything that adds more phallic imagery is *fine by me*. :D

I'm just disappointed that PIE-people didn't have beer. (I'm sure Methos is disappointed, too!) But that's a really interesting place to take the death root.

Actually, as I was doing research, in every language I tried, I kept running into root words that mean 'death' that could, with some fudging, work for the meth- syllable and the -thos syllable (like 'mort(al)' and 'death' in English). Either someone's trying to tell us something, or humans are obsessed with death. Or, you know, both.
(no subject) - ubixtiz on January 24th, 2006 08:07 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ubixtiz on January 24th, 2006 08:16 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ubixtiz on January 24th, 2006 08:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - melannen on January 24th, 2006 08:23 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ubixtiz on January 24th, 2006 08:30 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - melannen on January 24th, 2006 07:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ubixtiz on January 25th, 2006 12:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - melannen on January 24th, 2006 08:02 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ubixtiz on January 25th, 2006 01:36 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - melannen on January 26th, 2006 09:06 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ubixtiz on January 26th, 2006 09:23 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - melannen on January 26th, 2006 10:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
my brain, it is open-source: fireaftertherain on January 24th, 2006 08:14 am (UTC)
This is very cool! Are you sure you ANAL (Are Not A Linguist)? :D
I've always found the origin of names/words very intriguing. Add in Methos, and it becomes even more so. Thank you for sharing.
Zigismunda formosa: linguistmelannen on January 24th, 2006 08:25 am (UTC)
I guess at this point I can't deny being anal, but nope, I'm no more than an interested amateur - I took one linguistics class, which I mostly slept through because the instructor did nothing but tell the same three stories about the girl he dated in the Peace Corps. (True story! But no, I'm not bitter!) Please don't confuse me with someone who knows what they're talking about!
Sica: I heart the ROGcrowie on January 24th, 2006 11:17 am (UTC)
Woo I've not seen much about PIE before. I find it very interesting. Im a native Icelandic speaker and we have þ and ð in our alphabet. þ is always in the beginnig of words while ð is in the middle (and the sounds are what you describe). Actually those letters got imported into the Icelandic alphabet from English originally but then stayed on while they morphed into being 'th' in English.

Miðja (j pronounced like English y there) is middle in Icelandic but I would never have thought of connecting it to 'Methos'

This is a facinating essay though and I just want to say thanks for writing it. I mean I know the writers just picked a name they liked. I really doubt they researched it properly like this but that doesn't mean that we can't. So again, thanks :)
Zigismunda formosa: mevremelannen on January 24th, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
You're welcome!

When I get into a fandom, I just assume that the writers were smarter than they new. Which I guess goes back to my high school literature classes (I did the same thing with the names in the required novels, just to get through them) - it doesn't matter what the author intended, the meaning is still *there*, right?

If I had to be realistic, I'd say the writers named him either as a reference to Methuselah, or a reference to the word 'myth', or both. (Interestingly, the etymology of the word 'myth' only seems to go back three thousand years to Ancient Greek muthos - maybe the Greeks coined their word based on the legends of the oldest myth of all!)
(no subject) - lannamichaels on January 25th, 2006 06:02 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - melannen on January 26th, 2006 09:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
beccaelizabethbeccaelizabeth on January 24th, 2006 12:02 pm (UTC)
long time ago I did research on Methos in pointy triangle languages
http://beccaelizabeth.livejournal.com/456691.html
but see disclaimers. I'm not at all sure its even close to accurate.
Zigismunda formosa: ancientmelannen on January 24th, 2006 08:09 pm (UTC)
Ooh! That's great! Thank you! And it's probably at *least* as accurate as mine!
BethCarielle: HL Methos yellow- icon by Beeejbethcarielle on January 24th, 2006 02:53 pm (UTC)
This is fascinating. I've always wondered the origins of Methos' name. I've never had the opportunity to study languages, save some Latin in high school and college, but love them and the mysteries they hold.
Zigismunda formosa: linguistmelannen on January 24th, 2006 08:12 pm (UTC)
I've never really had the chance to study languages as in-depth as I'd like, but I still take the chance to geek out whenever possible. I'm glad you found it interesting!
The actual process of studying linguistics... - hmpf on January 25th, 2006 01:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
Hmpfhmpf on January 24th, 2006 06:52 pm (UTC)
*love*
This is... this is... I think I'm looking for a word like 'great', but 'great' doesn't quite cover it... *g* Anyway: much love for this essay!

Also: weird coincidence: I was researching ancient languages just yesterday. IANAL, either. Rather, IAAAS (I am an archaeology student), but I'm curious about other avenues of studying history, especially early history.

I see only one small problem with your analysis, namely, your statement that there are no unknown phonemes, stresses etc. in Methos' name. I'm pretty sure that everyone in Methos' surroundings pronounces his name wrong - it almost certainly wasn't pronounced the English way when he was given it originally - and this is probably not the first time he's adapted its sound to 'modern' phonetic schemes.

In my experience, when you move to another country where people are used to slightly different phonemes, you usually get so used to the way they pronounce your name that you start pronouncing it like that yourself, after a while. (Have we ever heard Methos say his own name, btw? I can't remember.) I know I did, when I had to introduce myself in England. Of course, English is still an indo-european language, so there has to be *some* fundamental similarity of pronounciation, but it could still have sounded *quite* different, especially if we assume that the pronounciation has changed a number of times over history. I could see him adopting a certain pronounciation and using it for a couple of hundred years, and then adapting *that* (instead of the original root of his name) to the sound of whatever new language would be dominant, etc. His name could have evolved like any other word in a language evolves. And it might even have come from another language family and then become adapted to the PIE phonetic standard when he moved into the area of influence of that language family. So, basically, I'm not too sure we should assume 'Methos' is very similar at all to whatever that name was 5000 years ago. Even when the Horsemen used to call him that, the name had already seen several millennia of use, and possibly change.

But it's kind of funny how many strangely fitting interpretations you can come up with for the possible meaning of Methos! I can't really imagine the writers did all this research before they named him, so it's certainly a weird coincidence. (I tell you: he's *real*! *g*) beccaelizabeth further up the thread has an interesting contribution about an Akkadian word that sounds similar enough to be related to Methos' name and means 'death'. Now, Akkadian is a bit younger than any language that Methos' original name could be derived from, but it *could* point in the direction of his name being proto-semitic.
Zigismunda formosa: ancientmelannen on January 24th, 2006 08:35 pm (UTC)
Re: *love*
Thank you for the love!

My main reasons for think that's its possible that 'Methos' is close to his original name is that there are supposed to be written records of his existence that go back almost as far as he does. There's his journals, which he's supposedly been keeping 'almost as long as writing existed' - and of course Methos could be lying about any given thing, but assuming the journals did exist and Methos is his original name, I'd think that remembering his own real name would be one big thing he uses them for. And then the Watchers claim to have existed for 10,000 years, and to have know about Methos since soon after he took his first head. (Any human institution existing continuously for 10,000 years just boggles the mind, and how did they keep Chronicles back then? Cave paintings? But anyway.) So there must be some Watcher record - maybe copied over every century, but still *there*, that gives a first-person account of that name back when it was nearly contemporary. (And yes, anything in the Watcher records could have been altered by Methos, too; I'm just sort of overlooking that.)

And writing words down in some sort of phonetic script is a really good way of slowing down the rate of change of words - people keep going back, reading the old stuff, and re-learning the old ways of saying things. I suppose it's possible that the original name had some sort of weird pitched glottal pharyngeal or something that everyone just agrees to ignore these days, but I still think it's fairly likely that 'Methos' is pretty close to the original pronunciation. Consider: it's a name that is known almost entirely to Immortals and Watchers, as part of their most cherished legends: Methos isn't going around introducing himself to barmaids by that name. Most Immortals and Watchers are fluent and literate in several languages, and very good at taking the long view of things, and at remembering. Therefore, I think that even without the written records, Methos' name has probably changed a lot less than might be expected.

On the other hand, you could just assume that they simplified it all for the sake of the American TV audience, but how is that fun?

I can't think offhand of any time when Methos would have said his own name. Wait, he does use it a few times when talking about the *other* Methos, in "The Messenger". I can't recall him ever using it to mean himself, though. That's ... really interesting.
Watchers - hmpf on January 25th, 2006 01:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Watchers - lannamichaels on January 25th, 2006 05:39 am (UTC) (Expand)
Gilgamesh - hmpf on January 25th, 2006 04:31 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Gilgamesh - lannamichaels on January 25th, 2006 06:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Watchers changing - hmpf on January 25th, 2006 06:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Watchers changing - lannamichaels on January 25th, 2006 06:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Watchers - melannen on January 26th, 2006 09:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Watchers - lannamichaels on January 30th, 2006 01:56 am (UTC) (Expand)
Laurie odell: deviousMethoscyberducks on January 25th, 2006 12:32 am (UTC)
How fascinating! I am reading this book right now about the history of the English language, and the beginning gets a little bit into the Indo-European tongues, but this subject is so much more interesting when one puts Methos into the mix. I have often wondered about the name Methos - and always assumed the writers took it from Methusaleh. And then didn't put any more thought into it.

Your post also really makes me want to eat apple pie.
Zigismunda formosa: ancientmelannen on January 26th, 2006 10:16 pm (UTC)
Everything is more interesting when you add Methos in to the mix. Really. And I assumed so, too, until they went and brought in Methusaleh as a *separate* personage, and then I started flailing.

And now I want to go eat pie.
Elistaire: elistaire doll (dark)elistaire on January 25th, 2006 12:56 am (UTC)
This is fabulous!
While I must say I got lost amongst the phenomes, the small parts of it that I could understand were fascinating, thank you so much for sharing this with us all. And I love your enthusiasm for the subject. :)
Zigismunda formosa: linguistmelannen on January 26th, 2006 10:15 pm (UTC)
Aww, phonemes aren't scary, you just have to think about it until they *click*! (Possibly my enthusiasm for this is scary, though. I've heard that a few times.)
elmyraemilie: Peter devious ts5000elmyraemilie on January 25th, 2006 01:27 am (UTC)
Wow--this is marvelous! There has been periodic speculation about the origin of Methos' name in this fandom for a long time. There are a couple stories about it--gods, I can't remember; one in which Duncan is *determined* to find out what the name means and goes to all sorts of lengths to find out, in particular. In one of the classic methos-backstory series (which I *can't find*--it's been a while since I read it) Methos' name has roots in the Greed word for honey, because of the color of his eyes.

I'm all for the honey theory. However, I liked these, too: me="I," dus="evil;" med="to take appropriate measures," dhers="to be bold." to my miniscule understanding, this is a fun game; in your greater knowlege, you make it a wonderful way of seeing into the character. Thanks!
Zigismunda formosa: ancientmelannen on January 26th, 2006 10:13 pm (UTC)
The story I remembered while writing this - and tried unsucessfully to find - starts with Methos and Mac pissing their names in the snow, and goes on from there. That one was fun.

The greek word for Honey, of course, comes from the non-alcoholic PIE root. But, still, fun, and I have a vague memory of that story (and vaguely remember wishing it had been a reference to what a sweet little baby he was, not the color of his eyes.)

It is a fun game! I don't know that I'm really working on any level higher than a fun game, either, but at least I got a chance to share the game with others.

(... and I promise not to cut off any heads.)
amonitrateamonitrate on January 25th, 2006 04:07 am (UTC)
You are a goddess. This was wonderful, and sparked so many potential story ideas in my head. I loved the definition "He-who-cuts-the gods down to size"... reminded me of one of the stories where Methos befriends Gilgamesh. Can't think of the author. Possibly Beck McLaughlin?

Amazing work.

I've often thought of Methos as one of the pre-Indo-Europeans, whatever people were in the british isles before the Indo-Europeans arrived, but there is very little out there about those cultures.

Fascinating.
Hmpf: metahmpf on January 25th, 2006 04:43 pm (UTC)
Pre-Indo-Europeans
The Basques are possibly a remainder of a pre-Indo-European people. They have unusual genetic characteristics as well as an isolated, non-Indo-European language, and there is apparently some evidence that many really old place names (esp. of rivers) all over Europe are related to Basque.

All this with the caveat that I'm not really a specialist in this, it's just something I gleaned from here and there.
Re: Pre-Indo-Europeans - cyberducks on January 26th, 2006 01:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - melannen on January 26th, 2006 09:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - amonitrate on January 26th, 2006 10:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Lanna Michaels: methoslannamichaels on January 25th, 2006 05:34 am (UTC)
First off, thank you so much for the glowing review. I'm blushing like mad. :D


Second: And partly because there must be a *reason* Methos keeps using it - and if so, he's not likely to just drop a couple of syllables when they get unfashionable.

I've been rewatching all the Methos eps I can in preparation for another Methos fic, and it strikes me that Macleod, Richie, and Joe are the ones who keep calling Methos by the name Methos. Methos refers to himself as Adam Pierson in this age, Dr. Adams in the past, etc. He only went by Methos when he was with the horsemen. I'd be interested if anyone who owns the Watcher Chronicles and other not-in-the-show paraphernalia could say when the first mention of the name Methos was. I think that it was a name that Methos used for a few thousand years, but ditched it permanently when it became apparent that all the other older immortals had managed to reinvent themselves as younger and so he was officially The Oldest. Also, that there was someone else using his name and therefore drawing all the negative attention. I don't subscribe to the idea that Methos was always and continuously scared that Kronos was going to come after him, but I think there was some caution there. If he hid himself, then Kronos and other enemies would have a harder time finding him. So I think he ditched the name. In Methos-the-episode, Methos acknowledges that he is himself, and it's always bothered me that Mac uses the name as freely as he does, like he's never learned discretion. The head of Methos would be a valuable prize and you'd think that Mac would understand Methos' desire to remain hidden.


As for the name itself, I am definitely not a linguist. I get a free ride in knowing a bit of Hebrew and a lot of Hebrew prayers, so I'm able to sprinkle in some definitely not English turns of phrases, but I don't think Methos' name means anything in his birth language, which I think he might have actually forgotten by now. I don't think that it was his birth name, I think it was a name he took for himself, possibly when with the horsemen. So I think this is a very cool thing you pointed out here:

Then there's mee-dhes, 'he-who-cuts-the-gods-down-to-size' (or something about a holy scythebearer - Death, anyone?), and mee-dhers, 'bold of heart'.


I've been working on an RPS AU vampfic in which the name Tris means fear, and therefore the character took the name Tristan when he moved to England, because it was close. I kind of see Methos' name as that. He had a name he was calling himself, then saw a wonderful descriptive name that was close to his own, so he claimed it.



As for (and that he believes in the Flood, which is interesting in its own right and probably puts him back in Indo-European territory, but anyway.), that's something that I just love. Because Methos doesn't strike me as the sort to believe in anything unless he's seen it for himself, and he does believe in the Great Flood and he believes in Methuselah. I love that, just love that.
Hmpf: metahmpf on January 25th, 2006 04:40 pm (UTC)
The Great Flood
Of course, the Great Flood could very well have been just a relatively local catastrophe, in which case it would make total sense for Methos to believe in it. I know the writers of HL want us to believe in a whole lot more mythological stuff, but I just can't quite make myself believe that the Great Flood was a reality in the biblical sense in the HL universe, just as I am having trouble believing in Ahriman-the-demon and the Methuselah stone. Nor in the Game, for that matter.

(Cue another discussion on how I'm missing the point of the show, possibly... *g* But then, I freely acknowledge that all my fic and my 'own' HL universe are just ever so slightly AU.)
Re: The Great Flood - lannamichaels on January 25th, 2006 05:56 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - amonitrate on January 25th, 2006 07:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - melannen on January 26th, 2006 09:58 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lannamichaels on January 26th, 2006 10:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
displayed tact - rodlox on February 4th, 2006 02:33 am (UTC) (Expand)
Hmpf: ears of lovehmpf on January 25th, 2006 05:13 pm (UTC)
About Methos looking 'Indo-European'...
I think we need to tread carefully here, because, basically, we have no clue what the original Indo-Europeans looked like. Keeping in mind the range of different physical types you get for speakers of Indo-European languages today - from the archetypal tall-blonde-and-blue-eyed Scandinavian to the much smaller and darker speakers of Hindi, to pick two *very* distinct types - it quickly becomes apparent that we can't really assume anything about the looks of the hypothetical people who spoke the language that all those modern languages are derived from. Who of these modern physical types are we to assume is closest to the 'original'?

Recent studies seem to favour the theory that the Indo-European expansion was a movement of language and culture rather than a large-scale demographic replacement, which would mean that while we get *some* Indo-European genetic influence in the areas of Indo-European languages, there would also be significant amounts of genetic influence from whatever people lived in the area before the arrival of Indo-European languages/people/culture. Which means that Methos' resemblance to modern Europeans could just as well be due to his being related to the pre-Indo-European component of modern Europeans as it could be related to the Indo-European component.

(Again, my caveat: this is not my area of expertise. I specialise in Bronze Age metalwork in Northern Europe, not Indo-European genetics or languages.)
Zigismunda formosamelannen on January 26th, 2006 10:08 pm (UTC)
Re: About Methos looking 'Indo-European'...
Ah! You caught me making undue generalities. Actually, though, I was basing it on the idea that cultural diffusion patterns seem to imply that PIE started out in the area near the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus. And if there's one way to describe the way Methos looks, it's 'Caucasian'.

Of course, that's just a punnish simplification and doesn't really mean anything about peoples' appearance 5,000 years ago. But he sure as heck looks more Caucasian than he does Egyptian or Semitic, anyway.
zenkatze on January 26th, 2006 10:10 pm (UTC)
I'm here from metafandom and I tremendously admire your essay. I have always been fascinated by the subject of proto-languages though to me there seems and aweful lot of speculation going on.
Anyway, adding to what was mentioned above: Methos could have changed his name several times for psychological reasons. It's not unheard of for people of certain cultures (if only I could remember one now...)to change their names to acknowledge psychological development.
mollior cuniculi capillo: meatwadsineala on January 27th, 2006 12:02 am (UTC)
Yo. I am a linguist. I'm just a grad student, and I'm a phonologist, but I know a bit about reconstruction. Wow, you've done a lot of research here. I have a couple points:

Just because a word has no "unfamiliar phonemes, stresses, or pitch" is no guarantee that it's IE. How about "sugar?" Nothing unfamiliar there, right? It's a borrowing from Arabic, a non-IE language.

[And besides, PIE sounded weird! Laryngeals! Nothing like English! :P]

So your argument is that Methos's name is pure PIE, with *dh somehow becoming [th] in Methos's name as he says it? Yes, devoicing is certainly a plausible process in general, though not intervocalically -- but the big problem is that PIE *dh, um, isn't the voiced interdental fricative. It's the aspirated voiced stop. AFAIK, the interdentals were totally not in PIE; they're a later innovation in, e.g., Germanic and Greek.

Now, if Methos grabbed his name from Hellenistic Greek, PIE *dh (voiced aspirated stop) went to Greek th (voiceless aspirated stop), went to th, the voiceless fricative, then you'd be okay with the consonants. But not if your theory is that his name is PIE with no sound changes -- then it can't be any of the roots you suggested. I would be willing to entertain *t for the second consonant and posit that maybe he got bored and wanted to spirantize, but that's only a good sound change for Germanic. So maybe he did it just to get along with the Germanic speakers and sound like everyone else.

Vowels actually do matter, and AFAIK we're pretty confident about PIE vowels. Methos's name is pronounced with IPA [i] in the first syllable, so you don't want to be looking for roots with *e. You want *i if it should sound the same in PIE.

It is the considered opinion of my girlfriend lysimache, who knows way more about PIE than I do, that Methos's name was intended to be like Gk. mythos, 'a myth, a story.' Then everything matches, since y is Gk. upsilon, a high front rounded vowel (French u, German ü), that, of course, later would become iota ([i]) due to the similarity in sounds; the meaning is reasonable. She supports the "drunk" meaning only if you're willing to buy that the vowels don't match, which is fine for "someone looked it up in a dictionary and thought it was cool" but not language reconstruction.

Beware things that just look alike -- they're called "faux amis" (false friends) for a reason! And sometimes, things that *are* related look/sound nothing 'alike', as in the Latin equus<equos and Gk. hippos (both from *ekwos).

You can't get "the one who was x" from Egyptian m- roots. m actually happens to mean "the one who is in," when written, because it is a commonly used abbreviation for the nisba-adjective jmj. mDjws, assuming Dw is "denounce," and assuming that somehow Methos was orally abbreviating jmj as well, would as best as I can tell mean "the one who is in denouncing (of?) the man." Word salad. I have forgotten how relative clauses are formed, but I'm pretty sure that's not it. I tried assuming the first syllable was mj, "like, the equal of," but there weren't any ts, tws, or Ts, Tws words. If I go with the idea that it's hellenized, it could be mj Dw, 'the equal of the Evil One.' (Note here that I have no idea how hellenizing works -- just throwing it out there.) I'm not very convinced by me, though.

Arabic, at least Classical and Modern Standard, has interdental fricatives. Voiced and voiceless, plus voiced emphatic. However, there aren't any m-th-s roots, at least, not in my crappy Hans Wehr dictionary.

So overall, a lot of things that look like "Methos" probably aren't possible PIE ancestors of it -- you need to know the actual sound changes. It's still a fun game of course, and I'm sure Panzer-Davis et al. probably did nothing more than look in a dictionary, anyway. :)
rodloxrodlox on February 4th, 2006 02:03 am (UTC)
Methos' name! (mostly praise)
I greatly enjoyed reading your enlightened essay about the origins of Methos' name.

If I might offer a thought: Methen (from Ancient Egypt), a divine serpent, whose job was to protect Ra (and Ra's barq(sp)) from Apnu (Apophis) and all other dangers.

just a thought.

that remark by me in no way detracts from how much I loved reading your writing on the topic. bravo, bravo.

Have nice days, and enjoy the languages, my friend.
rodloxrodlox on February 4th, 2006 02:32 am (UTC)
a theory in reply
>But that would mean that he'd've had to take it after he left the horsemen, and the horsemen in the flashbacks call him by the name Methos.

it might be as simple as memory-association. we (the viewers) know him as Methos. Cassandra (somehow) knew him as Methos.

ergo, since the flashbacks were from the POVs of Methos and Cassandra, we hear "Methos" & not "Uruk" or whatnot.

(yes, Uruk was a city name)
canadian_plantcanadian_plant on July 23rd, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC)
I just found this via your own Identity Porn post on dreamwidth, and it is lovely! Linguistic-based meta: I dig it.