Conference presentation by Milad Abedi at International Conference on Silk Road Studies: Iranian terms for footwear and their naming motivations

International Conference on Silk Road Studies: Archaeology, History, Culture, Languages and Religions on the Silk Roads


Various motivations can be found behind the naming of ‘shoe’ in Iranian languages,
such as terms related to ‘foot’, ‘leather’, ‘wood’, ‘to hold’, and ‘covering’. This had led
to different shoe names in New Iranian languages (after 900 CE).

Old Iranian languages (until 400 BCE), Young Avestan among them, contain shoe terms
such as aoθra- ‘shoe’ and derivations of Old Iranian *mauk- ‘to clothe’. Old Iranian
contact languages such as Akkadian exhibit words referring to ‘shoe’ which resemble
Indo-European terms for the foot, e.g. Akkadian patû ‘shoe’. The name of the shoe in
Elamite, one of the main Old Persian contact languages, is still unknown, however,
Elamite <mu-ut> may refer either to a shoe or an envelope (Walther Hinz & Heidemarie

Middle Iranian languages (300 BCE–700 CE) contain diverse data related to shoes such
as derivations of Old Iranian *kap- ‘to take, to hold’, and forms such as the Inscriptional
Middle Persian surgar ‘shoemaker’. It is remarkable, however, that during the Middle
Iranian period Iranian shoe terms appeared as Wanderworts in all Iranian contact
languages—forms of the two Middle Persian words mōg (muk, muz, muc) and kafšag
have been documented in almost all non-Iranian languages which were in contact with
Middle Iranian languages.

What are the reasons for these widespread borrowings? The easiest answer would be
trade, yet this story seems to have a more complex justification which archaeology,
linguistics, anthropology, and religious studies may shed light on. For example, being
barefoot is one of the worst sins according to Zoroastrian Middle Persian texts. It is thus
possible that Zoroastrianism, which had become the state religion during the Sasanian
period (224–651 CE), had an influence on the shoe industry at that time.
This presentation intends to collect and etymologically comment on all shoe terms in
Old and Middle Iranian languages. Moreover, it will elaborate on the reasons for the
widespread borrowing of Middle Iranian shoe terms in the whole of West Asia