Braccae - Etymology


The word is cognate with the English breeches. It appears to derive from the Indo-European root *bhrg- 'break', here apparently used in the sense 'divide', 'separate'. The consonant sequence *b.r.k implies an origin in the Germanic (with regular sound change *g > *k) rather than the Celtic branch of the Indo-European languages; Celtic would regularly have *b.r.g instead, as in Scottish Gaelic briogais or in breton language bragoù. The form *b.r.k is well attested in the Germanic languages (Proto-Germanic *brōkiz, see breeches).

If the Romans learnt this word from Celtic-speakers, it seems odd that the Latin word has cc, apparently resembling the Germanic form with *k rather than the Celtic form with *g. There are several possible explanations for this:

  • The Romans first heard the word from Celtic-speakers who had in turn borrowed it from Germanic-speakers.
  • The Romans first heard the word from Germanic-speakers.
  • The Romans first heard a form with Celtic *g, but the pronunciation they came to use in imitation did not accurately reflect what they originally heard.
  • The Celtic word first passed to the Etruscans, who did not distinguish between the "c" and "g" sounds. Transition through the Etruscans accounts for the Greek amorge being rendered as Latin amurca, Greek κυβερνἂν (kubernân) as Latin gubernare. Perhaps in this way "bragae" became "bracae", hence "braccae".

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