Welcome to Etymartist: the heart and szóríng* of words.

And what better way to start off than by offering you three friendly kisses (on the cheek, of course) for the price of one? 🙂

The post’s title showcases the word ‘kiss’ first in English, then Hungarian (or Magyar, as natives call their language and themselves) and finally Lepcha (or Róng ríng, as natives refer to theirs).

Kiss! Csók! Cúk! …(on the Cheek!)

I hope you’ll agree that it’s a good way to start.

These three cognates showcase how even seemingly disparate languages are, at the heart, very related. (These three languages will also take the spotlight here at Etymartist, especially the latter two.) 

Most know at least a little about English, an Indo-European language:

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and is now a global lingua franca.[4][5] English is either the official language or an official language in almost 60 sovereign states. It is the most commonly spoken language in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand, and it is widely spoken in some areas of the Caribbean, Africa, and South Asia.[6] It is the third most common native language in the world, after Mandarin and Spanish.[7] It is the most widely learned second language and is an official language of the United Nations, of the European Union, and of many other world and regional international organisations.


As a daughter of Hungarian immigrants, Magyar is my (long-since surpassed-by-English proficiency) mother-tongue.

In the mid-19th century, when the science of etymology (it might be more appropriate to call it a craft) first sprung to life, Hungarian was categorized as a member of the Finno-Ugric family. Since then, with the inclusion of Samoyedic, it is called Uralic:

Hungarian is the official language of Hungary and one of the 24 official languages of the European Union. Outside Hungary it is also spoken by communities of Hungarian people in neighboring countries—especially in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine—and by Hungarian diaspora communities worldwide. Like Finnish and Estonian, it belongs to the Uralic language family, with its closest relatives being Mansi and Khanty. It is one of the few languages of Europe that are not part of the Indo-European family.


Throughout my adult years I continued speaking Magyar with my parents. I’d visit my relatives across the pond every few years and brush up a bit more. But, I didn’t spend a lot of time immersed in it (esp. reading and writing), and my abilities eroded more-and-more every passing year.

Then, my late mother suffered a series of mini-strokes.

Once a woman with a beautiful voice who sang to us as children (and others throughout her 80+ years), Mama knew the words to an endless number of folk songs. In her teen years, her sister had won a népdal competition in Hungary, memorizing hundreds of such songs.

Mama’s strokes impaired her ability to talk as well as sing, and I could tell this was such a blow to her spirit. And so, in those final years, I began to sing a bit to her as best I could. That meant re-learning songs, and teaching myself new ones, too. 

One favorite was (and is) Csillagok, csillagok (Stars, stars):

I also found old Hungarian films online that we’d watch together.

She ‘returned’ to her days in Hungary as a young girl and woman. Surrounded by her beloved music and movies, my mother was so happy. But, the process whisked me away, too. I gained a new appreciation for the languages I’m blessed to know, and gratitude for languages of all types (I’d also studied French in junior high and high school, and Spanish in college).

And so, in the last year of Mama’s life, I started reading more in Hungarian.

I’d often have to go to the dictionary to check on a word. Or two. Or three. 🙂 In the process, I got hooked. How could I not have seen how important language was? I created lists of English words that were similar to Hungarian and, on my visits home to my parents, shared my treasured findings like an excited little girl.

Mama said, over and over: “Keep it up! Magyar is a beautiful language!”

Going deeper, I began reading up on the etymology of these words. And I continued reading books and articles of all kinds on Hungarian as well as Sumerian, Hellene (ancient Greek), Etruscan, Scythian, Gaelic, Basque, Sanskrit and so many others.

Finally, I found myself (only figuratively, to my sadness) in the beautiful Himalayas, in the midst of a small indigenous tribe called (by non-natives) the Lepcha. As I already mentioned at the open of this post, they call themselves Róng, and are believed to be the first inhabitants of Sikkim. Róng ríng is grouped with the Sino-Tibetan family:

Lepcha language, or Róng language, is a Himalayish language spoken by the Lepcha people in Sikkim and parts of West Bengal, Nepal and Bhutan. Lepcha is spoken by minorities in the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal, as well as parts of Nepal and Bhutan. Where it is spoken, it is considered to be an aboriginal language, pre-dating the arrival of the Tibetan languages (Sikkimese, Dzongkha, and others) and more recent Nepali language.


Etymartist is a sloppy, sentimental, heartfelt and humble Kiss! Csók! Cúk! to all English, Magyar and Róng ríng speakers and lovers. My hope with this project is to help bring about a more well-rounded understanding of the words we use every day. The long distances they travel in space and time to reach us. And what each word (which truly is a world unto itself) means to convey on its face … and under its fluttery time-worn veil, too.

This will be a low-simmering, slow-posting brew of a blog, which (hopefully) turns into something nourishing, thoughtful and fun for you and me.

♥ Ilona

*szóríng explained here. (link coming soon-im 03/24/16)