Word of the day: Colibri

Many people (mistakenly) assume that, French being a Romance language and Hungarian being… difficult, the two could not be more different. Think again! For various historical reasons, cross-pollination has definitely occurred between the two cultures. I’d like to occasionally share my findings with you.

Today’s word: colibri (Fr) and kolibri (Hu). In English, it means “hummingbird.”

The origin of the word is somewhat ambiguous, though the popular citation is an extinct indigenous Caribbean language. I was somewhat unconvinced, given that the word for hummingbird in various island dialects was nothing like “colibri.”

The Centre National des Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales gave this explanation (my translation):

Etymol. and Hist. 1640 colibry. Orig. obsc. Despite the location of its first attestations (v. König, p. 73), the word does not appear to be indigenous to the Caribbean islands nor to Galibi (Surinam). A derivation of the Occitane colobro, colubro (grass snake) because of the hummingbird’s sudden fits of anger, the word was brought to the Antilles by French colonists, difficult from phonetic and semantic perspectives.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any Hungarian resources to support this explanation. A few dictionaries mentioned it as a South American word, the true Hungarian being “virágmadár” (flowerbird). I have a hunch that a marriage between the Hungarian and French royal families around that first date listed (1640) helped pave the way for the adoption of the term, but there’s no telling without more research.


3 thoughts on “Word of the day: Colibri

  1. Pingback: The mutual history of Hungary and France | translation, untangled

  2. What other examples of cross-pollination between Hungarian and French cultures is there? I have never heard of one

  3. Pingback: Holmi Coliber nevü apró madaratskák | SUNYIVERZUM

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