Sometimes in a language, multiple words are innovated from one source word. For example, in English, the words shadow, shade, and shed all come from Old English sceadu. This concept is called a doublet (or triplet, quadruplet, etc.). Based on the word “high,” I am inclined to believe this has also happened in the Finnic languages, from Hellenic source words.

While there isn’t way to truly know which word would be the first exchanged between Finns and Greeks, my theory is that, the more words that stem from a single source, the older that word probably is. Let’s explore this concept through Finnish and Greek. Here are some Greek source words, and what I propose are Finnish descendants:

(h)Ypsēlós/(h)Ypsēlá (Υψηλός/Υψηλά) = High, lofty, stately (noble), proud, sublime

(h)Ýpsåma = Elevation, high ground

(h)Ýpsos (Ύψος) = Height, top, summit, high position, grandeur, pride

(h)Ypsóse = Upwards, aloft

(h)Ýpsi (Ύψι) = On high, aloft

(h)Ypér (Υπέρ) < *upó = Over, above (compare [h]Ypǽ/Υπαί)

(h)Ýpata (Ύπατα) = Highest, best

(h)Ýperthe (Ύπερθε) = From above


Ylevä = Sublime

Ylväs, Ylhäinen = Noble

Ylpeä = Proud

Ylämaa = Highland, climb, ascent

Huippu = Summit, top

Ylävä = High-elevation

Ylös = Up, upward

Ylitse = Over, aloft

Yli = Over

Ylä- = Upper, superior, high(er)

Hyvä(t) = Good

Ylhäältä = From above

Pitkä < *Pitkä < *Pide = Long/Tall (far = Pitkälle; compare (y)psila-, -de) = Psilá/Ψηλά (Tall)

(*Pitkä is cognate with Hungarian ‘föl/fel’ = Up)


From all these terms, we get the following in Finngreek:

Sublime, Lofty, Proud, Noble = (h)Yvela / Yvejla / Yvila

Summit = (h)Yvos / Ypos / Yvys / Ypys

Highland = (h)Yvama

High, Above, Aloft, Over = (h)Yve / Yvej / Yvi

Good = Hyve / Hypae(ta)

From above = (h)Yverθae

Tall = (hy/hi)Psiklaa

Far away = Psiklaade


What happened to intervocalic -ps- in Finnish?

It is not easy to say. We see the roots Ylp-/Ylv-/Ylh- coinciding. In Finnish, /p/>/v/ is a regular phonetic occurrence, both in case declension and in diachronica. Also, /s/>/h/ is a typical diachronic shift. Is there any example of -ps- in Finnish, though?

Well, there’s one I found so far: Hipsiä/Hiipiä = To tiptoe. The latter term declines to intervocalic /v/ (eg: Hiivin = I tiptoe). One interesting point is that the former hipsiä specifically refers to tiptoeing, while hiipiä can also mean ‘to sneak/creep/slink’. In Greek, “(h)Ypsēlós/(h)Ypsēlá” is used to describe high-heeled shoes (Ψηλοτάκουνα, (υ)Ψηλά τακούνια). It’s also important to explain the vowel shifts of (h)Ypsēlá > Ipsilá. In Greek, a process called iotacism caused ‘y’ and ‘ē’ to both shift to /i/. This can also be observed in Finnish<Proto-Finnic<Proto-Uralic – although in my studies, ‘y’ and ‘ē’ can also shift to /u/ and /e/. I will be discussing these vowel relationships more in an upcoming post about “Hypervowels”, which define vowel shifts from Greek into Finnish.

Getting back to the aforementioned terms, there is obvious metathesis that would have occurred for Ylp-/Ylv-/Ylh- < (h)Yps_l to take place. The variety in Finnish makes it unclear exactly how this happened – but that suggests to me the sheer age of these terms, as they were inherited and innovated in various ways. Similarly, in the Finnish terms for ‘out’, we see phonological variety:

Out = Ek-/Eks-, Ekso (Εκ-/Εξ-, Έξω) = Ulko-, Ulos

Exit = Eksodos/Ekodu (Έξοδος) = Uksi (Door), Uksa (Door/Space between tent [Sami])

(Greek /d/ > Finnish /l/ is a regular consonant shift I study in Finngreek. However, ‘Ekl-‘ and ‘Eks_l’ also occur in various terms with the ‘Ek-/Eks-‘ prefix.)

If we can compare ‘-lk’- with ‘-ks-‘, we could also compare ‘-lp-‘ with ‘-ps-‘. In the case of ‘E-‘ > ‘U-‘, this would either occur through a rare ‘I-‘ hypervowel (e-ej-i-y-u; ‘I-‘ occurs in Albanian, Balto-Slavic, and [after metathesis] Kurdish descendants of PIE *h₁eǵʰs) that hasn’t been reconstructed in Proto-Indo-European – or, Finnish ‘U-‘ was a result of metathesis and/or vowel harmony from Greek Ekso > Ulos/Ulko-, and Uksi/Uksa. Compare:

Out = Ulos/Ulko- = Ekso

Up/Upwards, etc. = Ylös = Ypsos

(Uksi/Uksa is compared as a possible borrowing from Baltic [compare Lithuanian Uoksas, ‘hole’], but given the equation of “Door = Ovi = Opi/Ovii = Οπή [hole]”, that comparison is obfuscated. Furthermore, Uksi/Uksa may more simply be from Proto-Finno-Ugric *ukse [door], which could illustrate the ‘E-‘ of Έξω after metathesis. This will require further studies.)



I believe these terms, in both Finnish and Greek, all stem back to the root Yl(p/h)- < Yp(s)-, referring to something or someone that is “High up, over, noble, proud, sublime, on top, from above, good”, and more.

There are even the Finnish terms ‘hupsu/hupsia’, which describe being silly or funny: So for all I know, the Finns who first came in contact with these “sublime and noble” Greeks were making fun of them for tiptoeing around in high heels in the surly swamps of Finland. The plot thickens.

One thought on “High: The Oldest Word in Finngreek?

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