Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Koleno - Goleno

It is very interesting is that in Serbian the words for knee, shin (bone), ankle all come from the same "kln, gln" root:

knee = koljeno, koleno, kaljen, kalino, kolino, golino
shin bone, tibia =  golijen, golin, goujeno, koljeno
ankle = gležanj

Basically we have two angles, knee (koleno, goleno) and ankle (gležanj) both made by the same bone shin bone (golijen, golin, goujeno, koljeno) and the bones connecting to it, all having names coming from the same root. And I believe that this root is "gol" meaning "naked".


Well have a look at these pictures:

Mesolithic clothing

Neolithic clothing

Bronze age clothing
 Iron age clothing

Basically during all this time, when our languages were developing, the working and fighting clothes remained the same length: they ended somewhere around the knees. There is a purely practical reason for this. A tunic or a kilt of that length allows full range of movement while providing enough cover to keep the body worm. Anything longer and you will not be able to spread your legs and walk normally or bend. Anything shorter and your balls will shrink from the cold :)

The part of the leg which was uncovered, naked (goljen in South Slavic languages) is exactly the part from knee (koleno, goleno in Serbian) to ankle (g(o)ležanj in Serbian) which are connected by the same bone, shin bone, (golijen, golin, goujeno, koljeno in Serbian), all the words based on the root "gol" meaning naked.

In "Etimologijski rjecnik Hrvatskog ili Srpskog jezika" (Croatian and Serbian etymological dictionary) by Petar Skok we read:

"Prema Sobolevskom se denominacija odnosi na dohistorijsku nošnju bez rukava i nogavica. Na to upućuje i orfološka činjenica da je golijen apstraktum deklinacije í. Znači dakle »golotinja, ono što je golo«"

"According to Sobolevski this word comes from prehistoric clothing without sleeves and legs. This is indicated by the fact that the word goljen means naked, bare"

Now if the word "gol" meaning naked is indeed the root of the word "goleno, koleno" meaing knee, then this raises an interesting question. 

In my post "From knee to knee" I wrote about the strange fact that while in almost all other Indoeuropean languages the word for knee comes from the root "gn, kn" and means knee, angle, in Celtic and Slavic languages the words for knee come from the root "gln, kln". 
The word knee also has additional meanings in Irish and Serbian which are not found in other languages:

Serbian (koleno, koljeno, kaljen, kalino, kolino, golino): knee, angle, generation, step in descent, offspring, family, clan, race, house

Gaelic (glúin): knee, angle, generation, step in descent, step in pedigree

Now if the Serbian word for knee koleno, goleno (kln, gln) comes from the Serbian (Proto Slavic) word for naked gol (gl), then where does the Gaelic word for knee gluin come from? The same Proto Slavic root?

Well actually, the Proto Slavic word "gol" (naked) comes from Proto-Indo-European *galw- (*kalw- ) meaning naked, bare. There are words in Indoiranian, Baltic, Slavic, Italic and Germanic languages based on this root. But not in Celtic...So where does the Gaelic word for knee come from? Slavic languages? Germanic languages? Latin? However only in Slavic languages the words for the bare, naked parts of the leg from knee (koleno, goleno in Serbian) to ankle (g(o)ležanj in Serbian) are based on the root "gol" meaning bare, naked. So...

What do you think?


  1. The words golijen, golin, goujeno, koljeno seem to share a root with the Latin word for knee - genu. The Aramaic word for knee is gonu. The Hebrew word is very different - berekh. This supports your thesis because the ancient Hebrew never appeared in public with their knees uncovered.

  2. Thank you so much for this posting!