Talk like an Egyptian

April 20, 2012

Almost everyone associates ancient Egypt instantly from apparently quite typical vocabulary like pyramid, sphinx, obelisk, stele, mummy, sarcophagus, hieroglyphs, and knows names like Memphis, Luxor, and Nile, not to forget Egypt proper. However all are not Old Egyptian but Greek words and names.

The only popular exemption is Pharaoh  (farao), the title of the old Egyptian king, which goes back to an old Egyptian term (par’o).

Table 1: Egyptian toponyms which differ from current use in Western languages

popular term Egyptian likey pronunciation remarks
Egypt kmt “kemet” lit. means black or black land in contrast to the “red” desert
Nile, river Nile ytrw, “yitro” one of the popular names of the river, best known from the Bible where Yitro appears as the name of the father in law of Moses
Heliopolis ywn/w “yon” known in the Hebrew Bible as “On”, where Yosef married the daughter of the high priest of the temple
Memphis mn-nfr “man-nefer” the name means nice memorial, referring to the pyramid of Djoser
Karnak ypt-swt “yafet-sot” today Karnak at Luxor
Luxor ypt-rst “yafet-rest” Luxor (“rest” means to guard, to rest)

Table 2: Typical Egyptian features named otherwise in old Egyptian language

popular term Egyptian pronunciation remarks
pyramid mr “mir”  
obelisk thn “takhan” the same word in Hebrew means “mill” but also “station”, “mark”, “resting point”
stele wdj “widg” (like: which) German: widsch
pylon ywn “yon” column
sarcophagus nb-‘nch “neb-ane’ach” “Master of Life”
hieroglyphs mdw·w-nṯr “madu-we-netsher” Godly words, the ancient Egyptian word for “god” is “nṯr”compares to “nature”
Pharaoh Pr-a’ “par-ow” Lit. “man of the house”, “Big one”

On the other hand surprisingly there is a higher number of Old Egyptian (OE) terms in European languages usually not considered.

While researching on common Hebrew and Old Egyptian vocabulary and language patterns, a collection of matches as a side product also sheds light on Egyptian – European relation.


Table 3: Old Egyptian terms in European languages 

Egyptian pronunciation Translation into remarks
chpr kheper German: Käfer Engl. beetle
sa’ sao Sow, female pig German: Sau
‘sya as’ya “a-si-a”: OE term for Cyprus Ancient Romans called today’s Turkey “Asia
z’h say’ay German: Zehe Engl. toe, means toe
nṯr netsher Engl. “nature means: god
nt nat German: nass means: wet
d’d’ dede Frz. la tete means: head
s ‘t sat German: satt sate, sated
hrw haro Engl. hour day, hour, comp. Latin: hora
sr ser Engl. Sir A high official, master
hr her German: Herr Hor-us, master
tp top Engl. top, head head, peak, top, tip

 Fast jeder assoziiert das antike Ägypten sofort mit offenbar ganz typischen Begriffen wie Pyramide, Sphinx, Obelisk, Stele, Mumie, Sarkophag, Hieroglyphen, und kennt Namen wie Memphis, Luxor, Nil und nicht zu vergessen Ägypten, die allesamt jedoch nicht ägyptische sondern griechische Namen und Bezeichnungen sind.

Die einzige geläufige Ausnahme ist Pharao als Titel der antiken Herrscher, welches auf einem altägyptischen Begriff basiert.



Flattering Old Egyptian blessing for rulers, high officials or important guests:


Jmj nht hnn-f st hmt nbt, (= ca.: ya’me nakhat ha’nen’ef sat hemet nabat)

“let his penis be stiffen for all women”