Arriving with Cows

A small bit of dialogue from the wonderfully satisfying movie ‘Arrival’ that i didn’t quite catch while watching, was about the Sanskrit word for “war” and its etymology.

One linguist thinks the word, gavisti, comes from “argument,” when the right answer is “a desire for more cows.”

Now as an Indian, this was a bit of an eye-rolling moment. I mean yes we revere the cow, traditionally to the point of the proverbial holy cow.

But would the culture that produced a war epic like the ‘Mahabharat’ really call it an argument for cows? The war was over land and kingship, rule of law and righteousness. It makes the whole thing sound a bit silly when described as ‘a desire for more cows’.

Then this LA Review of Books article mentions the little detail in passing, that “war” has a fundamentally pecuniary meaning.

And pecuniary meaning ‘relating to or concerning money’ comes from the Latin pecu, meaning — wait for it — cattle.

So yeah. Thats a little bit of anthropological history embedded in language like layers of sediment, or the rings of a tree.

Source: What We’ve Got Here: “Arrival” – Los Angeles Review of Books