Friday, July 9, 2021

And May Her Memory Be Eternal


My mother, who died in 2004, was a terrific bowler. 

We know she had a 600 series. If you don't know bowling, that means she once bowled three 200 games  (or the average thereof) in a three game set. 

We know she didn't ever bowl a 300 game, a perfect game of 12 consecutive strikes, but a 600 series is a very significant accomplishment.

I also know that she picked up two very difficult splits--what is known as the Big Four and also the dreaded 7/10 Split, a nearly impossible feat.

When she bowled in leagues she had a vest with patches certifying the three significant accomplishments I have described. For frequent bowlers, such patches are like the medals on a military uniform. If you saw someone with the 7-10 patch, you would take notice that you are in the presence of greatness.

The reason I am talking about these things right now is that I am spending a month in my wife's native Romania, and going bowling at a local mall has become a nice way to spend part of the day here.

And as I have been bowling, I have been increasing my own score by remembering advice she gave me over the years. A few years back, here in Romania, I bowled my highest game ever--a 205, and crucial to achieving that was remembering at a key moment advice that my mother gave me. I tell the story of that game in this video.

And this got me to thinking that I don't know what my own mother's actual highest scoring game was.

My father, who bowled in leagues with her for many decades, has also passed. I asked my living siblings, one of whom also bowled in leagues with her for some years, and he doesn't remember. He knew the information about the 600 series, and those two splits, but does not remember the high score. Obviously it was good, somewhere way up in the 200's. But the exact number of it is now officially lost.

I am taking this kind of hard because I know this is a fact of history that at one time was extraordinarily important to someone. Someone important to me.

But this information is gone. This saddens me and I have to let this go, but I decided to write this post just to acknowledge it all.

So here's what we can assume. Getting a 600 series means you score a high percentage of strikes across three games in a row. Like anyone, she had days that were better than others. But there must somewhere in there have been a day when an even higher percentage of strikes managed to land inside of one specific game. Again, we know she didn't get a 300, but a score beyond 250 seems almost certain. Past that it becomes purely speculative what that best game could have been.

So I content myself with this thought. I wasn't there, but I know what the scene certainly must have been. It would have happened some evening when my parents were bowling in a league. Something like every Thursday night. And the first game was just a warm up. But let's imagine, in the second game, she had a run of strikes. She left a pin standing at some frame, but she picked it up for the spare. Some more strikes. I remember her always saying that a strike in the 9th frame is crucial to higher scoring game. She got it. And when that game was over, her team and the opponents were congratulating her and were happy to have even watched this terrific game unfold. And she knew that she had just bowled her highest scoring game ever. Whatever that number was, it replaced her previous best game. 

This new number would remain her best game until her death. And she thought about that game from time to time. For a number of years before her death, her health faded in such a way that bowling at all would be impossible. And that itself sad because of how much bowling had meant to her in her life. But she still always had the memory of that highest scoring game. 

I put together a pretty decent game myself this morning (I use the name Andrei here in Romania). If things had not fallen apart in the middle, it would have been a 200 game. Indeed, it was more than a 100 in the 5th frame.

And I can never bowl without feeling close to my mother.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Dogs as Pets in Ancient Israel

It is well known that cats were revered in Ancient Egypt. Ancient Greeks and Romans had domesticated dogs as both pets and household guard animals, evidenced by the mosaic below from Pompeii, Cave Canem, "Beware of Dog."

But did ancient Jews up to and including the Roman period have household pets? While the evidence is scanty, in this post I will demonstrate that, despite the status of dogs as an unclean animal under Mosaic law, they were definitely held in regard and kept as pets. 

Cats and Dogs in the Bible

Cats are mentioned only once in Scripture--in the deuterocanonical book of Baruch 6:21, where the author mocks idols by saying that:

Bats and swallows alight on their bodies and on their heads; and cats as well as birds.

Dogs are mentioned significantly more throughout Hebrew and Christian scriptures. There is a word in Hebrew for a domesticated dog (kelebכֶּלֶב), distinct from the word for wolf (ze'ebזְאֵב). The fact that the Arabic cognates for these are the very same word with the predicted phonological differences (kalb; كلب and dhi'b; ذئب respectively) is proof that domesticated dogs had a relationship of some sort with Semitic peoples from very ancient times.

The ritually unclean status of dogs is established in Leviticus 11:27:

Of the various quadrapeds, all those that walk on paws are unclean for you;
everyone who touches their dead bodies shall be unclean until evening.

While at first glance one might assume that such an animal cannot therefore be a pet in the home, note that a person only incurs ritual uncleanness by touching the dead body of one of these. This verse primarily establishes that dogs would not be kosher for eating. Horses are also non-kosher, in that they do not have a split hoof (Leviticus 11:26), but they would have been routinely touched while used for travel and warfare.

Dogs as Pets?

The primary biblical example of a dog as a pet in ancient times comes to us from the deuterocanonical book of Tobit. The son of Tobit, Tobiah, goes on a journey, accompanied unawares by the Archangel Raphael, to recover a large sum of money that his now blinded father had deposited in another city. And we read in Tobit 6:2:

When the boy left home, accompanied by the angel, the dog followed
Tobiah out of the house and went with them.

It is evident from this verse that the family has a pet dog that actually lives in the house. 

Later in the book, when, with the help of Raphael, Tobiah has not only gotten the money, met and married the maiden Sarah, and obtained an ointment of gall that will heal his father's blindness, we read in Tobit 11:4:

So they both went on ahead and Raphael said to Tobiah,
"Have the gall in your hand!"
And the dog ran along behind them.

So even though the dog was not mentioned throughout the entirety of the story, we are to know that the dog was always there behind the scenes. 

Dogs in the New Testament

That dogs were known to live in homes in the New Testament period is proven by the exchange between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenecian woman in Matthew 15:27. While entreating for a healing for her daughter, and told by Jesus that it was not right to "take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs" (giving a healing to a gentile), she replied, "Please, Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters (τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν)." He marvels at her faith and grants her the healing.

No one lets a stray dog just wander into their home and eat food under the table. This text makes it clear that these are animals owned by the people in the house, since they are the dogs' "masters."

God and Man's Best Friend?

Now, one could assert that the story of Tobit, set in Nineveh (modern day Mosul, Iraq) after the exile of the Northern tribes, but likely written during the Hellenistic Period (perhaps 2nd century BCE), does not reflect the mores of Jews regarding dogs in more ancient times. 

There is a verse, however, from Isaiah that I feel has been overlooked for its implications regarding the attitude of more ancient Jews toward dogs. In a passage asserting that the old sacrificial system is not as important as obedience, we read in Isaiah 66:2-3, words reported as speech from God:

This is the one whom I approve:
the lowly and afflicted person who trembles at my word.
Slaughtering an ox is like slaying a man
sacrificing a lamb is like breaking the neck of a dog.

Surprisingly , this passage equates the murder of a human and the killing of a dog.

Hebrew poetry is based on parallelism, not rhyme or meter. One line makes a statement. The next echoes it. Another example from Psalm 89:14:

Strong is your hand
Exalted is your right hand

The two parallel statements are equivalent, albeit employing different vocabulary.

Chapter 66 of Isaiah is understood by scholars to have been written in the early post-exilic period (post 539 BCE). It is clear that the culture that produced the above verse considers the indiscriminate killing of a dog to be a senseless and morally reprehensible act on par with the killing of a human.

If the author feels that strongly about the killing of a dog, it would not be unreasonable to believe that, in the world of this author, dogs living as pets in homes is a common and accepted practice.


That dogs were kept as pets in their homes by ancient Jews at least after the exilic period seems abundantly clear. The esteem for dogs implied by the above cited verse from Isaiah is quite remarkable. Despite a dearth of explicit references to dogs as pets in the Bible, in all likelihood, beloved canine companions should be inserted mentally into all of your familiar Bible stories. They were there and cherished as much as they are today, even if the focus of the subject matter only attests them scantily. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Why You're Seeing So Many Dead Squirrels on the Road Right Now

Anecdotally, people are reporting seeing an unusually large number of squirrels, hit by cars and killed, on the road right now.

I killed one myself just this morning on the way to work. This happened in the center lane of an interstate with three lanes going each direction. That squirrel had no business being there!

And if I had attempted to avoid running over that pool fellow, I would have endangered myself and everyone around me.

So here is my theory. All of the squirrels born in the Spring reached maturity at a time when there was basically no one on the road. They became quite accustomed to going anywhere they wanted with absolutely no repercussions.

It takes squirrels 14 weeks from birth to their adulthood. So the timeline checks out.

Now, just in the last couple of weeks the number of cars on the road has increased dramatically. The return to hybrid education, which is the reason I have been on that highway for the first time since mid-March, is just one example of why. Indoor dining has also recently be resumed here in New Jersey.

So these young squirrels have been doing things like running across interstate highways and other roads for months, and almost all of them have lived to tell the story of why there's no reason not to do it.

Until now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Learn a Language with Dr. Massey

In my continuing mission to help promote language learning, I have made some videos describing how I first began learning languages and how people can achieve this worthy goal themselves.

Learn a Language with Dr. Massey: The Hows and/or Whys:


Learn a Language with Dr. Massey: Practical Methods for Success:

Follow the links in the descriptions of the videos to go to my language learning webpage.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

COVID-19, He or She?

Now, in English, the title of this blog post makes no sense. But for Romance languages, in which everything has gender (and in Romanian, still a neuter without gender), a word must have a gender so we know what forms of adjectives to use when we describe it.

I stumbled upon the interesting issue of the French Language Academy (L'Académie Française), charged with authoritatively issuing rulings on the proper use of that language, formally declaring that COVID is feminine, not masculine. 

People all on their own had been saying "le COVID" as if it were masculine. But L'Académie has pointed out that the term COVID-19 refers to the disease caused by the virus (maladie provoquée par le corona virus). As a result, the whole term hinges on the word maladie, which is feminine. As a result, the acronym is feminine and should therefore be referred to as "la COVID."

Granted, there has been a lot of imprecision in the use of the terms describing the virus and the disease. Properly speaking, the official name of the virus itself, whether it is on a doorknob or in someone's lungs, is SARS-COV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2). It is the disease caused by the virus that is described by the term COVID-19 (Corona Virus Disease 2019 [the year it was first documented]). 

So the French Language Academy is certainly correct about what the gender of the term COVID ought to be. They cite as evidence for their case the acronym CIA (in French Agence centrale de renseignement). Since the term ultimately refers to an agency (agence), and every French speaker knows that agence is feminine, it is la CIA, not le CIA.

The reason I suspect that the French Language Academy is fighting a losing battle on the COVID front, however, is that knowledge of what exactly that acronym is describing is not exactly common. I'm a fairly well educated man, and I admit I googled all this to double check it while writing this post. 

So French speakers were assigning the term COVID masculine grammar simply because the acronym, turned into a pronounced word, has nothing that would have suggested feminine.

I decided to conduct a linguistic experiment. With no background as to why I was asking, which might have invalidated the response, I asked my Romanian wife this morning, "How would you say, in Romanian, 'COVID is bad'?"

With no hesitation she replied, "COVID e rău," using the masculine form of the adjective. I asked, "So the word COVID is masculine?" Her response, "Yes, and the definite form is COVID-ul." (-ul being the suffix on masculine nouns to product the definite form "The COVID").

If there were a Romanian Language Academy, trying in vain to prevent the tsunami of Americanisms from currently entering Romanian, they would have the same argument as the French Academy. The Romanian word for illness, boală, is feminine. (It is an apparent Slavic borrowing, cf. Russian bolnoi [больной].)

From there, Google searches confirmed that the rest of the Romance Language world agrees with the instinct to just make this masculine. It is:

Spanish: el COVID
Italian: il COVID
Portuguese: o COVID

So time will tell whether L'Académie Française will have any greater success in winning this battle than they have had in stamping out the term Le Week-End.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Story of the Novel "A Place of Brightness"


I am married to a Romanian-American and, as school teachers, we spend our Summers there (though unfortunately not this Summer, due to COVID-19).

In the Summer of 2010, while we were in Romania, I happened to see on the television a story about how, in 1962, the Communists there finally managed to crush an anti-Communist insurrection that had struggled for some years against the government. 

And the Communist government had kept any knowledge that this insurrection was even happening completely hidden and secret from the vast majority of the populace, lest they share such sympathies and rise up as well.

The insurrectionists called themselves "Haiduci," which is a Romanian word that originally meant "Bandits." In areas mainly in the mountainous Carpathian regions north of the capital city of Bucharest, they carried out acts of sabotage against Communist interests. 

But in 1962 they were finally crushed, and widespread knowledge that they even existed did not come to Romania until after the Revolution of 1989.

So I found myself imagining, what became of these insurrections that maybe managed to escape notice or escape Romania at that time. And so in my mind I began to picture the final mission of a family of Haiduci. And the characters of A Place of Brightness came to life.

Autobiographical Elements

I grew up in Wisconsin, but, having studied Arabic for my PhD, I served at the National Security Agency for four years after 9/11. During that time I was awarded the Global War on Terrorism Civilian Service Medal for my service in Iraq in 2004. 

For full authenticity of emotion and experience, I used certain characters of my novel to process some of what I had gone through. The main protagonist, Andrew Valquist channeled much of that for me. My middle name is Andrew and I made him experience what I had--a tour in Iraq. 

I gave him an identical twin, Stefan, as I also have an identical twin, Kevin. Forging dialogue between the twins was therefore a very natural expression for me. 

Interestingly, while Andrew was my original doppelganger, so to speak, my life has evolved to become more like that of Stefan. He is a Romanian Orthodox priest, and I was ordained a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church just two years ago.

A Place of Brightness

The phrase "A Place of Brightness" comes from an Eastern Orthodox prayer for the dead. That the dead would be in "A Place of Brightness, A Place of Greenness, and Place of Repose." I imagined that these Haiduci, virulently anti-Communist but still also practicing Orthodox, would feel the tension between their Faith and their Mission. And so I envisioned them as praying thus for those they were about to unfortunately kill in their pursuit of a free Romania. 

I won't give any spoilers to the story. When a second generation descended from the Haiduci return to their ancestral land, they will be pulled into deep danger and intrigue that somehow goes back all the way to the events of 1962 when the movement was crushed.

Read A Place of Brightness for the rest of the story...

Sunday, May 3, 2020

A Latin Language Version of "Here Comes the Sun" - Latin Teachers Greet their Students During Quarantine!

As I was nearing completion of the music side of a Latin language cover version of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," the idea struck me that the video version needed to be a way for Latin teachers to greet and encourage their Latin students as we all struggle through this unprecedented experience of Distance Learning.

With the help of Meghan Kiernan, who is a better connected Latinist than myself, I received enough video clips to forge what I think is a nice tribute to this moment in time. 

Following the names of contributors, I include an explanation of my translation choices that went into the Latin lyrics for the song.

I thank all who participated in this project:

Magistra Jessica Anderson, Mineola High School 

Magistra Jenn Armstrong: Shenendehowa High School, Clifton Park, NY

Magistra Keziah Armstrong, Shenendehowa High School, Clifton Park, NY

Magistra Gemma Ball, Bolton School Girls’ Division

Dr. Jason Blackburn, Lexington HIgh School, Lexington School District One, SC

Magister John Bracey, Belmont High School, Belmont Public Schools

Magistra Stephanie Buckler, Stafford HS, Dixon-Smith MS, and Drew MS, VA

Magistra Cassie Caplan , Bronxville School

Magistra Kathleen Durkin, Garden City High School, NY

Dr. Brenda Fields , Windermere Preparatory School

Trish Gibson, Oxley College

Magistra Laura Holland, Garrison Forest School, MD

Magistra Jennifer Jarnagin , The Episcopal School of Dallas.

Mr Andy Keen, Bristol Grammar School, Bristol, UK

Ms Meghan Kiernan, Freehold Township High School

Magistra Maureen Lamb, Kingswood Oxford School

Michael Maguire, Boston Latin Academy 

Dr. Keith Andrew Massey, Leonia High School, Leonia, NJ

Dr. Jason Nabors, Central Magnet School, Murfreesboro, TN

Magistra Cathy Pinkley , Franklin County High School Rocky Mount VA

Magister Ben Revkin from East Greenwich High School in East Greenwich, RI

Ms Claire Rostron, Winchester College, Winchester UK

Magistra Francesca Sapsford, Strathallan School, Scotland.

Dr. Abigail Simone, Houston High School,

Allyson Spencer-Bunch, JFK Middle School, Northampton Public Schools.

Magistra Melanie Streed , St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School, Alexandria, VA

Explanation of Translation Choices for “Here Comes the Sun”
Keith Andrew Massey, PhD

“Here Comes the Sun”
The first and arguably most important  decision involves the often repeated titular phrase, “Here Comes the Sun.”

One is immediately forced to make a decision on what exactly is the grammar underlying George Harrison’s statement. One option is to see the word “Here” as meaning, “It is coming here.” If this is the case, we want the Latin word that means “hither,” “to here,” i.e, huc. 

My instinct, however, is that the word “Here” means something more along the lines of, “Look! The Sun is coming!” And so I have rendered it with the word “ecce.”

I take as corroboration St. Jerome’s translation of Genesis 37:17, widely translated into English as “Here comes that dreamer!” (vid. RSV, NIV, et al.):
“Ecce somniator venit.”

“Little Darling”
To render this frequently repeated form of address I have gone with the well attested term of endearment “Deliciae,” which fortuitously has the same number of syllables as the original English, thus making it perfectly singable.

“It Feels Like Years Since it’s Been Here.”
The question we must first address is, what is the referent of the word “IT”? Is George talking about the aforementioned Winter? In other words, Oh, it’s still winter, it feels like years since it’s been here! Or is he talking about the Sun, which has theoretically NOT been here for a long time and now is finally here?
For me, the deciding factor comes from the parallel phrase in another verse:
“It seems like years since it’s been clear.”

In this case, it has NOT been clear, but finally, with the arrival of the Sun, it is now clear. 

The fact that he also completely repeats the phrase in the next verse, following the mention of the “Smile” makes it further unlikely that he is switching up what the “IT” is referring to. 

Why does this matter? It matters because I will be rendering both of these sentences as Indirect Statement Constructions. And the choice of the accusative pronoun requires me to know the referent, and therefore its gender to choose the correct one! If he is talking about the Winter (hiems) I need the feminine “eam.”  I am deciding that the “IT” here is the Sun, and so I use the masculine “eum.”

And so, I render the phrase “It feels like years since it’s been here” as an Indirect Statement with a literal English translation:
“It feels (that) for years it (the sun) not to have been here.”
Sentit annos eum non fuisse hic

The precise word order is chosen primarily to make it sing more fluidly.

“The Smile[’]s Returning to the Faces”
What makes this one a bit tricky is that what George seems to actually sing in the recording is different from his original handwritten lyrics, which read:
“The smiles are returning to their faces.”

I put the apostrophe in brackets above because potentially George actually sang what his handwritten lyrics first attested, but the key words “are” and :”their” just didn’t come out clearly in the recording. 
I have decided to just translate based on what it sounds like and make the word which sounds like “Smiles” into “Smile’s” (contraction of “Smile is”).

“I Feel that Ice is Slowly Melting”
If you look up “to melt” in a typical Latin dictionary, you will find “liquefacere” in the transitive and the intransitive “liquescere.” I am again going to St. Jerome for a different option, such as in Psalm 67:3:
“Sicut fluit cera a facie ignis”
“As wax melts before fire.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Actual Footage of Teachers...

In this post I will be presenting a series of video tributes to fellow teachers managing through difficult times with ingenuity and grace.

Actual Footage of Teachers Exhausted from Distance Learning Yet Knowing this Won't be Over Any Time Soon:

Actual Footage of Teachers Preparing to Teach Through Distance Learning with Very Little Warning:

Actual Footage of Teachers Preparing for Yet Another Day of Distance Learning:

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Bit of Positivity...

In 2004, as I was getting ready to go on my deployment to Iraq, I had told the manager of my apartment building that I had a plant that I would like to leave with them to water in my absence. 

I was over the Atlantic when I remembered that, in the midst of all the details of leaving, I had forgotten to bring it to them. I can remember taking a sip from the glass of wine I had in my hand and thinking, "That plant is dead." And while I regretted not taking the plant to the apartment manager, that was the least of my worries.

Four months later, on the night when I was back in my apartment after being for a month in Egypt followed by three months in Iraq without coming back to the United States, I saw the completely brown and desiccated plant. And on a lark I took a glass of water and poured it into the soil. 

The following morning, to my utter amazement, it was as green as you see it right now. Whether it was a miracle from God or a miracle of nature, which for me can be the same thing, this plant still today thrives.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

An Italic Etymology of the word PIZZA

Pizza is an amazing combination of textures and tastes, affording one an almost limitless variety of ways to combine ingredients to personalize their experience. But where did pizza as we know it come from? More specifically, what is the origin of the word PIZZA? In this post I will offer a new proposal for the etymology of PIZZA. I will suggest that pizza as we know it--and call it--is far older than previously believed, pre-dating even the ancient Romans.

Origins of Pizza in Italy

The earliest mention in literature of something resembling pizza in Italy comes to us from the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 BCE). In his epic poem the Aeneid, a band of Trojan refugees led by Aeneas had earlier received a prophecy that they would know they had reached their promised land when hunger forced them "to eat tables" (absumere mensas, Aeneid 3.257).

After the Trojans land in Italy, first at Cumae, near modern day Naples, they travel up the coast and are camped on the beach at the mouth of the Tiber River. Vergil describes them putting "fruits of the field" (pomis agrestibus) upon "spelt cakes" (adorea liba) which he further described as "scanty bread" (exiguam in Cererem; Aeneid 7.109-113). When they ate all of it, including the bread on which they had placed the other ingredients, Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, jokes:

"Hey, we even eat the tables?"
(Heus, etiam mensas consumimus? Aeneid 7.116)

And then they realized they had just fulfilled the prophecy. But note how the food they ate, ingredients put on a thin layer of bread and then eaten whole, does indeed resemble pizza. And it is intriguing that Vergil describes the Trojans eating this food immediately after they had spent some time in the area of modern-day Naples.

Pizza in the Area of Naples

The fact is, there are numerous foods around the world that are very much like pizza,
meaning they constitute various ingredients served on a bed of some type of bread. But Naples claims to be the birthplace of pizza, called 'pizza' as we know it. A very early reference to the food is found in the work of a Neapolitan poet named Velardiniello (La storia de cient'anne arreto, 1590). The author nostalgically talks about the good old days when:

"The pizza then seemed like the wheel of a cart"
(La pizza te parea roto de carro)[1]

Presumably he means that, in his memory, pizza in “the good old days” was bigger than pizza was in the time of his writing. But the important thing, based on the analogy to the wheel of a cart, is that he is totally talking about pizza as we know it.

The Oldest Reference to Pizza - 997 CE

It seems certain, based on the information above, that a food like pizza, called pizza, was indeed invented somewhere in the area of Naples. But the oldest reference to pizza by that name is actually centuries earlier than Velardiniello. In a Latin language document dated to the year 997 CE, we read how a food gift was to be offered in perpetuity to the Bishop of Gaeta on both Christmas and Easter. And this food gift included:

"Twelve pizzas"
(duodecim pizze)[2]

Gaeta is just 96 kilometers north on the Italian coast from Naples. And since these twelve pizzas are referred to in the context of other food items, such as a pork loin (una spatula de porco), there can be no doubt that the duodecim pizze here are indeed food. And there is no reason to doubt that they are referring to pizza as we know it. What is very intriguing about this early reference to pizza is that the form of the word seems so "Italian" in the midst of an otherwise purely Latin text. And that brings us to the question of what Italian even looked like in the year 997 CE.

The Double Z (ZZ) in Italian

Modern Italian words with a double Z (ZZ) derive from different original sources. For example, the word piazza (town square) comes from the Latin word platea. The Italian word puzzo (stench) comes from Vulgar Latin putium. The important question for the word pizza, however, is, "What was the status of the double Z in 997 CE?"

To answer this, let's look at the some of the oldest archaic Italian texts we have, Dante and St. Francis.

The double Z is attested in Dante (1265-1321), indeed, in the very first line of the Inferno:

In the middle of the path of our life...
Nel mezzo del cammin de nostra vita...[3]

The double Z there is derived from the Latin word medium (middle).

But just a little earlier than Dante, the double Z is not attested in the famous Canticle of the Sun by St Francis (1182-1226). St. Francis uses the word tribulatione in line 24 of his hymn. This word is abundantly attested as tribulazzione in later Italian, before evolving into the modern tribolazione.

What this means is that the double z in the phrase duodecim pizze in 997 CE is quite peculiar. While superficially appearing to be “Italian,” it may actually be something else.

An Italic Etymology of the word “Pizza”

Before the Romans spread out from their city state to take over all of Italy, there were other peoples on the peninsula speaking languages other than Latin. To the immediate North, for instance, there were the Etruscans, whose language is still not well understood, but it seems unrelated to Indo-European. Elsewhere, such as in the area of Naples, the inhabitants spoke various dialects of languages which, while not Latin, seem to be related to Latin through a common ancestor, much as Spanish and French are both related by being descended from Latin itself.

Linguists call this the Italic language family. Members such as Oscan and Umbrian are attested in an unfortunately small sample of surviving inscriptions. But what we do have is enough for us to understand certain features of these languages. An interesting way in which they differ from Latin is that where Latin has a ‘QU’, the other Italic languages have a ‘P’. So, for instance, the Latin word quid (what) is attested in Oscan as pid.

So here is my proposal. The word ‘pizza’ is actually of Italic, not Latin (or Italian) origin. It came about in the following way.

1) The most central feature of the food is the ability to personalize it--to have it be “What it may be.” Whether you want extra cheese, or not, whether you want pepperoni, or not, your pizza can be whatever you want it to be. The Latin for the phrase “What it may be” would be quid sit.

2) An ancient Italic inscription seems to attest the equivalent of quid sit. An inscription in the Paelignian dialect, which is closely related to Oscan, includes the words:


This has been interpreted by some Italic scholars to be, in fact, the equivalent of quid sit (What it may be) or quidquid sit (Whatever it may be).[5]

What we today know as PIZZA was once called, in ancient Italic and in the area of modern-day Naples, as “What it may be,” a name derived from the choice of toppings.
3) The two words PID.SEI (What it may be) evolved into a single word PIDSEI. A modern example of a food named after a merged phrase is the ‘Whatchamacallit’ candy bar by Hershey’s. In fact, ‘Whatchamacallit’ basically means the same thing as PIDSEI.

4) The sound DS easily evolves into a Z. Think, for instance, how you actually pronounce the end of the word ‘birds’. PIDSEI became PIZZEI, and then PIZZE.

5) While the word PIZZE was originally a singular, it was misinterpreted by speakers as a plural.

A singular form ‘pizza’ was created by analogy to the multitude of other words in Latin/Italian which have a plural ending -ae and a singular ending -a.

(The Latin diphthong -ae had begun to change to -e very early, evidenced by the fact that the word ‘saepe’ (often) is spelled ‘sepe’ in 1st century CE graffiti from Pompeii.)

6) Other words for foods have undergone the exact same transformation of starting as a singular, being reinterpreted as a plural, and then generating a new singular form. Examples include the word ‘cherry’, which was borrowed from the Old North French singular form cherise. Once the singular word cherise was misunderstood as the plural, the word ‘cherry’ was created to be the singular form. Similarly, the Old English word for ‘pea’ was pease (plural pesen). Pease was misinterpreted as the plural, resulting in the creation of the singular word ‘pea’.


I’ve shown that the oldest attested instance of the word pizza (duodecim pizze) in 997 CE can be explained as coming from a merger of the Italic words that would have meant “What it may be” (Latin, quid sit; Italic PID SEI --> PIDSEI --> PIZZE). Italic inscriptions have been found at Pompeii, which means that non-Latin Italic languages were still being spoken in the area of Naples as late as 79 CE. The question that remains is whether an Italic word for a food, let alone the food itself, could have been passed down for another 900 years without detection.

The fact is, words for foods are surprisingly stable. When people adopt a new food from another culture, they ordinarily keep the original name.

The Latin word for ‘cheese’ (caseus) was borrowed by the ancient Germanic peoples at some point prior to the 5th century CE. Since they apparently did not know how to make what we know as ‘cheese’ prior to encountering the Romans, they borrowed not only the expertise, but also the name of the food. And the word persisted in the Germanic languages so that today the word for that delectable product in German is Käse. (Our English word ‘cheese’ is also derived from the Latin).

The survival of the Latin word for ‘cheese’ in Germanic would be equivalent, time-wise, to the survival of the Italic word for PIZZA in the area of Naples.

The people in the area of Naples could easily have passed on for hundreds of years, not just the recipe of an ancient flat bread with toppings described in Vergil’s Aeneid, but an ancient name for that food which preceded the Romans themselves.

I hope my research and proposal can shed light on the origin of the word PIZZA. It would not be until modern times that someone put pieces of pineapple on that Neapolitan food. Even if the matter of the etymology of the word pizza is eventually settled, pineapple on pizza will certainly remain a polarizing matter!

[1] Velardiniello, Stanza 13.1
[2] Codex Diplomaticus Cajetanus. Monte Cassino: Typis Archicoenobii Montis Casini, published 1887, p. 181.
[3] Inferno 1.1.
[4] The ancient inscription was preserved in a 16th century CE manuscript. Conway, Robert. The Italic Dialects. Volume 1. Cambridge University Press, 2013 (Originally published in 1897), pp. 237-238.
[5] von Planta, Robert. Grammatik Der Oskisch-Umbrischen Dialekte, Volume 2. Cambridge University Press, 2012 [Originally published in 1892), p. 654.