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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: January 2018

The treatment of pagoda in etymological dictionaries


The word pagoda has, since March 2005, been defined as follows in the Oxford English dictionary: (1) “In South and South-East Asia: a Hindu or (in later use esp.) Buddhist temple or sacred building …” (2) “In South and South-East Asia: an image or carving of a god; an idol …” (3) “A gold or silver coin of higher denomination than the rupee, formerly current in southern India …” It is, of course, a loanword, and its etymology is given as follows by the OED:

< Portuguese pagode (1516 in sense 2a, 1525 in sense 1a, 1697 in sense 3), of uncertain and disputed origin … The ultimate origin of the Portuguese pagode is uncertain and disputed. It was once thought to be < Persian butkada idol temple < but idol + kada habitation, but now seems more likely to be either < Tamil pākavata devotee of Vishnu (< Sanskrit bhāgavata pertaining to the Lord (Vishnu), worshipper of Vishnu or the goddess Bhagavati: see below), or < Tamil pakavati (name of a) goddess (< Sanskrit bhagavatī goddess, alternative name of the goddess Kali). Sense 3 arose from the fact that the image of the goddess was stamped on the coin.

The treatments of the word in western European etymologica fall into two groups, from which I shall quote some entries (with punctuation normalized). It is universally agreed that a Portuguese form pagode or pagoda is the etymon of the forms in other western European languages. In the first group of etymologies, to which the OED etymology cited above belongs, some doubt is expressed as to the immediate origin of the Portuguese word, and it is suggested that this may possibly be found in Persian or in an Indic language.

Kluge (2002): Entlehnt aus port. pagode ‘Götzenbild, Götzentempel,’ das (wohl über des Malayische) auf ein indisches Wort zurückgeht. Allerdings ist die Entstellung durch die portugiesischen Handelsreisenden so groß, daß das indische Vorbild nicht mit Sicherheit angegeben werden kann.

Chantrell (2002): from Portuguese pagode, perhaps based on Persian butkada ‘temple of idols,’ influenced by Prakrit bhagodī ‘divine.’

Cloete et al. (2003): uit Port. pagoda ‘godebeeld, godetempel.’ Deur hulle ontdekkingsreise het die Port. eerste met die Oosterse konsepte en woorde kennis gemaak en na die Weste versprei. Port.