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Thread: Νεκρά Θάλασσα, αλλιώς Ασφαλτίτις λίμνη (lake Asphaltites or Asphaltitis?)

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    Νεκρά Θάλασσα, αλλιώς Ασφαλτίτις λίμνη (lake Asphaltites or Asphaltitis?)

    I was doing some light editing work the other day when I came across this alternative name for the Dead Sea (‘Lake Asphaltites’) and I suspected there was something wrong with the spelling, though I must confess I was not familiar with the term.

    I turned to the English version of the Wikipedia entry for the Dead Sea, but it caused more confusion. Here’s what it said when I looked it up:

    The Greeks called it Lake Asphaltites (Attic Greek ἡ Θάλαττα ἀσφαλτῖτης, hē Thálatta asphaltĩtēs, "the Asphaltite[14] sea").
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_S...y_and_toponymy (accessed 15/9/2020)

    There are two problems with this. Firstly, ‘θάλαττα’ is ‘sea’, and ‘lake’ is ‘λίμνη’, which is actually the commoner term in the relevant findings in Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. Secondly, Wikipedia’s ‘ἀσφαλτῖτης’ (sic — even the circumflex is wrong there) and the transcribed form ‘asphaltĩtēs’ are masculine. However, both ‘θάλαττα’ and ‘λίμνη’ are feminine nouns, therefore the Greek adjective is spelt ‘ἀσφαλτῖτις’ and the English transcription should be ‘Asphaltitis’.

    I opened my OED to consult the well-known feminine suffix -itis and here’s what I found:

    a. Gr. -ῖτις, properly forming the fem. of adjs. in -ίτης, but often used absolutely with a fem. n. understood, as in ἀσϕαλτῖτις (λίµνη) Lake Asphaltitis, the Dead Sea; already in Greek used to qualify νόσος disease, expressed or understood, e.g. ἀρθρῖτις (disease) of the joints, gout, arthritis, νεϕρῖτις (disease) of the kidneys, nephritis, πλευρῖτις pleurisy, ῥαχῖτις spinal (disease), rhachitis. On the analogy of these, -itis has become in mod. medical L., and hence in Eng., the regular name for affections of particular parts, and spec. (though this is not etymological) of inflammatory disease or inflammation of a part. Examples are appendicitis (inflammation of the vermiform appendix of the cæcum), bronchitis, gastritis, peritonitis, pneumonitis, tonsilitis, etc. The Fr. form is in -ite. In irregular trivial use applied to a state of mind or tendency fancifully regarded as a disease.

    However, that’s not the only ‘Asphaltites’ in the Wikipedia entry. Further below, I read:
    The Ancient Romans knew the Dead Sea as "Palus Asphaltites"[39] (Asphalt Lake).
    and
    Josephus identified the Dead Sea in geographic proximity to the ancient Biblical city of Sodom. However, he referred to the lake by its Greek name, Asphaltites.[43]

    Of course, Josephus wrote in Greek and it was not hard to locate his references to the lake:

    νῦν μέντοι τῆς Σοδομιτῶν πόλεως ἀφανισθείσης ἡ κοιλὰς ἐκείνη λίμνη γέγονεν ἡ Ἀσφαλτῖτις λεγομένη.
    καὶ διὰ πάσης ἐρήμου ῥέων εἰς τὴν Ἀσφαλτῖτιν λίμνην

    (plus a dozen more similar references)

    The problem with the Latin ‘palus Asphaltites’ is that ‘palus’ with the meaning of ‘lake’ is also feminine (according to my excellent Latin dictionaries). In fact, the term the Romans used was ‘lacus Asphaltites’ or ‘Asphaltites lacus’, which is fine because ‘lacus’ is masculine.

    Thankfully, the Greek entry in Greek Wikipedia has the correct spelling: Ασφαλτίτις λίμνη κατά τους αρχαίους Έλληνες
    https://el.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%9D...83%CF%83%CE%B1

    In modern Greek, we would change this to Ασφαλτίτιδα λίμνη, just as, say, πλευρῑτις has become πλευρίτιδα.

    The English may go on spelling it ‘lake Asphaltitis’ or ‘lake Asphaltites’, depending on whether they are transcribing the Greek or the Roman term, but the Wikipedia entry must be corrected. For example:

    The Greeks called it ''Lake Asphaltites'' ([[Attic Greek]] {{lang|grc|ἡ Θάλαττα ἀσφαλτῖτης}}, ''{{transl|el|hē Thálatta asphaltĩtēs}}'' [the current entry]
    must become:
    The Greeks called it ''Lake Asphaltitis'' ([[Attic Greek]] {{lang|grc|ἡ Ἀσφαλτῖτις λίμνη}}, ''{{transl|el|hē asphaltītĩs lĩmnē}}''
    Lexilogia is a covidiot-free zone.

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    Senior Member anepipsogos's Avatar
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