Two reference works I love and forget

January 8, 2008

Having done the post-for-my-own-reference thing yesterday, I felt a weird motivation to dig out the citations for two reference works I once fell in love with, but which I can never remember. I would probably be willing to buy a copy of either at anything approaching a price I could afford:

  1. H.F. Wustenfeld, Vergleichungs-Tabellen zur muslimischen und iranischen Zeitrechnung
  2. Gerhard Doerfer, Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen, unter besonderer Berücksichtigung älterer neupersischer Geschichtsquellen, vor allem der Mongolen- und Timuridenzeit

The first is the most exhaustive reference for historical date equivalences when working with Islamicate calendars. I thought I’d provide a link to go with each of these. Here‘s Wustenfeld’s Wikipedia page. Quite a busy guy.

The second is just a really incredible work. It’s an etymological dictionary of all Mongolian (not sure if that’s the right precise English term) and Turkic loanwords in usage in the Persianate world. Particularly interesting entries for Urduphiles that I can remember off the top of my head include those for naukar, qorma, kheema, sanchak, sanjar, and of course urdu. (These spellings meant for familiarity, not for use in searching this book.)
Doerfer figures in this heated debate on a linguistics mailing list: (Now, that was exciting, wasn’t it.)

I thought about adding the etymology of korma to its Wikipedia page, and noticed there’s no real definition there. Now, I know a fair number of people in the West and vegetarians in India who think that korma has some intrinsic relationship with coconut, or more precisely, with copra, but that’s really not it. But sitting here, I can’t think of a definition (even, say, within a restricted Hydro sense.) I do remember my mother-in-law insisting that the [k|q]orma was the essential distinguisher between haleem and harees. Which is something to ponder if you had just started working up a definition based on the kormas you’ve eaten. I can’t quite recall the actual Turkic meaning, but I’m pretty sure that there would not be a perfect correspondence between that and the defining characteristics of the dishes with that name (cf. biryani.) (Can I take this moment to say that Wikipedia’s Indian food articles are not the best example of what collaborative reference work authoring can achieve? Or maybe they are, depending on the meaning of example. Anyway, I think there’s an article or two about this somewhere (maybe here,) but I really don’t think I’ve seen anything great on the topic.)

This would be a good time to point out to all of the Hyderabadis out there that sheer khorma is not a korma like the kormas we’ve been discussing. That’s the Persian khurma. That’s قرمه for the well-known savory dish, and خرما for the eid sweet. “Sheer khorma,” then, is “date milk.” Many seem to think of vermicelli as the make or break ingredient. In their minds it would be the butter and maghziat “qurma” which differentiates the quintiseential Hyderabadi eid treat – served warm – from the soggy noodles served by Pakistanis and North Indians. In our house, this leads to the great battle of the lazy: if you forget to soak the chauhare (dried dates) the night before is it best to make sheer khorma with rock hard dried dates, fresh dates (of which there’s usually an abundant supply left over, but which just kind of clump up nastily in liquids), or with no dates? Here you can see how linguistics can be brought into the service of politics. Forget Hindi and Urdu, Serbian and Croatian, it’s the etymology of this “khorma” which will make all the difference between having chewy but still delicious dates in a warm milk bath and having to choke down dairy noodle soup. Ugh.

(Aside: I’ve really got to stop typing dlsa instead of dsal in my address bar: I keep ending up here. Another aside: re. the dictionary entry, I would have assumed Sodom was a Mesopotamian city, but who would have guessed that entire phrases of modern Persian could be traced back to their language? Fascinating!)

The second khurma may also have a Turco-Mongolian background. Somebody check Doerfer for me. But, I’m gonna guess it’s cognate with khajur and its siblings.

To sort of tie these two things back together, and continue the original purpose of providing reference for myself and my pairs (don’t ask), this is a link to Wright’s Arabic grammar. Somewhere, sometime, I had a hard copy of that. I think it was eaten by the lost luggage monster which has claimed so many brave books. Either that or its cousin, the book post monster, who eats in 5 kg. portions.


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