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From Kidney to Stone

E. Golshen, 1st March 2010

Kurdish languages have a wide range of vocabulary. Sometimes there are more than ten current words for a single meaning in the Kurdish dictionaries, waiting to preoccupy readers' minds. But unhappily most of these diversities and varied kinds might be foreign loans. Routinely the original words are giving way to the loanwords and this process has a background as old as the oldest document pertaining to Kurdish has.

Using comprehensive dictionaries and etymological studies on words are appropriate ways to recognize those original words which have been survived the danger of obsoleteness to the present time. The purpose of this paper is to study the etymology and historical developments of Kurdish words for "kidney" and "stone".


In case of varieties for "kidney" the Kirmanjí Kurdish represents a rather small diversity. This statement is tangible where the prevailing Northern Kirmanjí "gurcik", and a less common "gulcik", stay on the same side as that of Southern Kirmanjí "gurcig" or "gurdale", the last one pretty less common, and Central Kirmanjí "gurcíle". They all converge on a main root of "gur(d)" which is evidently followed by a diminishing suffix in Central Kirmanjí "-íle" and Southern Kirmanjí (only in Lekí) "-ale". Its Old Iranian form is probably "vert-ke"* which is reflected in Avestan "viridhike". At the first glance it might instantly cross your mind that the Northern Kirmanjí "gurcik" is a later form of an earlier "gurtik"* since there are lots of similar instances proving the Northern Kirmanjí trend to turn "t" into "c". But very likely that is all wrong because the Southern and even Central Kirmanjí show the faintest examples of such a trend. Therefore "-cik" and "-cig" endings in Northern and Southern Kirmanjí words are not telling on an earlier "-tik" but indicate another Kurdish diminishing suffix: "-cik" / "-icke" e.g. "zirocke" ~ "lake" (literally "little sea").  

As far as I know the only exception amongst the all Kirmanjí Kurdish varieties for "kidney" is that of Erdellaní (a subdialect of Central Kirmanjí) where there is "wollk" instead. This however brings no surprises since it's rather a borrowing from Hewramaní Kurdish (a language of Pehlewaní branch of Kurdish languages spoken in the mountainous areas of southwest of Sine-the urban territory of Erdellaní). I got to confess that "wollk" belongs to the urban accent and I am still uninformed of the Rural Erdellaní variety. It's worthy of mention that the Rural Erdellaní retains its purity much better than the Urban Erdellaní which couldn’t skip the contamination of Hewramaní during the reign of Erdellans, when they designated Hewramaní language as the language of their court; considering it as a close relative of the archaic royal language of Kurds, Goraní Kurdish. 

Therefore the only Kurdish root is doubtlessly "gur(d)" which sounds Persian: classical Persian "gurde" < Middle Persian "gurdeg". The current Persian word for kidney is "kolyé" which is an Arabic loan. But there is also "gordé" ~ "loin" from the same ancient root with a little difference in semantic concept and "qolvé", which is used for "animal kidney" in colloquial Persian (probably of dialectal Arabic origin).  

In case of Pehlewaní Kurdish varieties we find Zaza "velik", Síwendí "villk", and Hewramí "wellk". Current Goraní word for kidney is not different from the Southern Kirmanjí "gurcig" and is doubtlessly a loan. If we could let go the Hewramí and Síwendí varieties, but for sure the Zaza one arouses curiosity. The preservation of Old Iranian "v-" is normal for Zaza (and generally for Pehlewaní Kurdish) but middle "-l-" elucidates a change of "-rd-" > "-l-" which is not in consistence with what we expect Zaza to be characteristically: serr < Old Iranian "serde" ~ year, zerre < Old Iranian "zerde" ~ heart. 

In my research for any clues leading to the original Kirmanjí Kurdish word for "kidney", which has given way to "gur(d)-", I have found "vircik" ~ "female genitals" / "loin" in Northern Kirmanjí and "wertú" ~ "loin" in Southern Kirmanjí. Both are cognates of Persian "gordé" and therefore are ultimately derived from the same Old Iranian root for "kidney". Thus both hold an earlier meaning of "kidney" which is later developed into "loin". Considering "-cik" as a suffix we get "vir-" and the Southern Kirmanjí "wertu" could be comprised of "wert-" +"-ú". Fortunately "vircik", that highly resembles the  structure of common Kirmanjí "gurcik" / "gurcig" / "gurcíle", and "wertú" have skipped the menace of Southwestern influence as well as that of the famous Kirmanjí development: "v"/"w" > "g".


Contrary to "kidney" there are a lot of various words for stone in Kurdish: berd, kucik, zíg, zígar, sí, etc. Here I am willing to discuss about "berd": Kurmanjí "berd" / "ber" ~ "stone", Western Soraní "berd" ~ "stone", Eastern Soraní "berd" ~ "cliff", Hewramí "berd" ~ "stone", Zaza "ber" ~ "stone". Also the Lurrish word for stone and pebble is "berd". The root of this word has remained obscure for many years nevertheless some have suggested Old Persian "berde" ~ "tall" (< Old Iranian "berze") as its possible root. No matter how groundless it might be to link Old Southwestern Iranian "berde" ~ "tall" with Modern Northwestern "berd" ~ "stone", but the Síwendí variety in this case halts the proposers from affirmation:  "verd" ~ "stone". Since Síwendí is well-known for retention of the Old Iranian "v". Therefore "verd" is purer than "berd". So the Hewramí and Zaza words, "berd" / "ber", are merely borrowings from Central and Northern Kirmanjí respectively. But still to me "berd" itself held a vague root until I faced a dialectal Persian word (from Kazerouni dialect of Fars province), "kordík" ~ "stone" / "pebble" < "gordík", in a comparative dictionary of Kazerouni Dialect. There the author indicates that this word originally means "kidney" and further gives an account on similar words meaning "stone" but holding the same root as "kidney" in various Persian dialects (e.g. "gurdeg" ~ "rubble", "qolvé-seng" ~ "pebble", etc.). By the way I surprisingly found "werd" in Southern Kirmanjí for "stone", however its original meaning is somehow obsolete and it mainly lives on in diversified definitions. And besides the toponyms such as "Reshewerd" ~ "black-stone", "Surewerd" ~ "red-stone" (the birthplace of the well-known Iranian philosopher, Suhravardi) in eastern Kurdish areas, we can find Northern Kirmanjí "lajh-werd" meaning "ore" / "metal".     

From Kidney to Stone, 

Although Kurdish has adopted many foreign loans while dropped a vast amount of original words thru its history, but fortunately we are still able to trace many original words in the daily Kurdish and observe their developments. "Werd" and "wertú"/ "vircik" let us know how it's possible to reach "stone" through "kidney"! 


  1. Dialectology, journal of the Iranian Academy of Persian Language and Literature, Vol. 1, No. 3, January 2005 
  2. Shokrollahe Baban, Farhang-e Farsi Kordi, 1384 (ba horufchini-ye jadid) 
  3. Karim Karimpour, Farhang-e Guyeshe Kordi-ye Kalhori (Kermanshahi), Vol. 3 
  4. Hashem Khatami, Barresi-ye Tatbiqi-ye Guyesh-e Kazerouni 


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