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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000114.txt from 2010/05

From: Michael Nichols <>
Subj: Re: [kl] mozart
Date: Mon, 10 May 2010 16:10:41 -0400

On Mon, May 10, 2010 at 11:40 AM, Tim Roberts <> wrote:

> Surely you must realize that the German language is much younger than
> the Old Testament. =A0I have no evidence thereof, but it would not
> surprise me to learn that the German prefix "Ur-" itself derives from
> the Biblical reference to the city of Ur.

Well, that's the main reason why I asked Dan where he had heard that
explanation, rather than simply claiming that what he said was wrong.
After all, I don't really know for sure if what he said is wrong--it
just doesn't seem to jive with what I've learned from studying German,
and I'd like to find a good way to resolve the conflict in my mind.
It was certainly not my intention to try to discredit Dan--I'm just
trying to figure out what can be said reliably about this topic. (As
far as WHO is a reliable source, Dan was already up there at the top
of my list.)

Back to the subject at hand...the only thing I'm 100% confident about
is that the word Urtext is German and the prefix "Ur-" (in this
context, at least) carries a meaning of "original" or "primitive."

As you say, it's conceivable that the German prefix "Ur-" is somehow
derived from the name of the Mesopotamian city Ur, but I have my

For one thing, the verb version of the same prefix is spelled "er-,"
and in Old High German it was apparently spelled "ir." In Old
English, it was spelled "or-" (and survives today in the word
"ordeal," the German cognate of which is "Urteil," meaning judgment
[as in a court case]).

Also, it also didn't always mean "original." Once upon a time it
meant something along the lines of "out." In fact, it still does
(sort of), at least in the sense that the origin of something is that
from which the thing "goes out." (urspr=FCnglich, for example, combines
"ur-" with the verb "springen" [to jump] to mean "original"--in other
words, in German, the origin of something is the place it springs
forth from.)

Another thing you must keep in mind is that given the fact that this
prefix is a very ancient Germanic prefix (pre-Beowulf, even), it comes
from a time that predates the rise of German (and, for that matter,
English) as the great language of literature and scholarship we know
it as today. "Ur-" came from the vernacular language of the common
folk of that era, for whom the fact that Abraham hailed from the city
of Ur would likely have been of little consequence. Keep in mind that
ordinary German-speakers neither possessed bibles nor could they read
them (they would have to wait for Johannes Gutenberg and Martin Luther
to remedy that). Most probably had never even heard of Ur. It just
seems unlikely to me that an expression that requires that level of
educational sophistication to understand would have been in common
usage in the vernacular back then.

(Incidentally, have you ever noticed that in Orff's Carmina Burana,
when you hear Latin and German [Middle High German, specifically] in
the same song, it's typically the men who speak Latin and the
[presumably illiterate] women who speak German?)

Thinking of the ancient Mesopotamian city Ur IS a great way to
remember what that prefix means, however.
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