Back to top

vagel – a tricky etymological knot?

The article considers the possible Baltic origin of vagel : vagla : `vakla ’worm, larva’, which has a South Estonian background, but is nowadays also used in the North-Estonian based common and standard language. The dialectal variants etymologically associated with the word vagel are vakl, vagõl, vaul/vaal/vual/ voul/vaun/vouv ’bot, swelling caused by gadfly maggots under animal skin’. Nearly all Finnic words currently or formerly containing the sequence *kl, have been proved to be borrowed stems, some of them being old Baltic loanwords like kael ’neck’ (< *kakla), tael ’tinder’ (< *takla), some old Germanic ones, e.g. nael ’nail’, nõel ’needle’, sõel ’sieve’ and probably also pael ’ribbon’. Vocalization of the syllable-final stop occurring in the North Estonian dialect area, the Coastal dialect of Estonian, as well as in standard Finnish and western Finnish dialects is an old linguistic trait that does not concern more recent borrowings. Presumably the underlying Baltic form is *vagla-, surviving e.g. in Latv. dial. vagul(i)svaguol(i)s ’beetle/ein Käfer, der Baumkäfer’, vaguols ’a small black beetle/ein kleiner, schwarzer Käfer’, vagules pl ’meal beetles/kleine, schwarze Insekten im Mehl’, Ltg. (Kalupe) vogûls ’flightless insect (possibly a Coleoptera)’. The Latvian vagu(o)l- is probably a dissimilative form of the stem vabal-/vabu(o)l-. The latter occurs both in Latvian and Lithuanian: Lith. vabalas, vabuolas, vabole ’(dung) beetle/ (Mist)käfer’, Latv. vabuole, vabuol(i)s, vabule, vabul(i)s, vabala, vabale, vabals, vabele ’dung beetle, cockchafer, 7-spot ladybird/Mistkäfer (Geotrupes stercorarius L.), Maikäfer, Sonnenkälbchen (Coccinella septempunctata)’. Both Baltic stem variants are are morphologically complex, containing an element of the archaic affix -l-. In Latvian the kl-final derivatives containing the l-element are either old or very old. Some Finnish etymologists (Eemil Nestor Setälä, Eino Nieminen, Jorma Koivulehto) have tried associating the Estonian vagõl and Finnish vaula, -o, -u, also vaulu, vaulo, vaunu, Weidenrutenring; ein solcher Ring als Bremse an der Schlittenkufe’, which is morphologically conceivable, but semantically totally unlikely. The idea is opposed, e.g. by Károly Rédei (UEW I/5 1988: 553). According to SKES VI: 1679; SSA 3: 420 vaula is a Germanic loanword, while no Estonian association is mentioned.