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This post relates to a medieval Jewish scholar who uses what I believe to be transliterated Latin in his work. Below I provide some basic background to his comment, with the main question beginning below the horizontal rule.

Rabbinic Jewish law prohibits certain types of mixtures, including crossbreeding distinct species of animals. In expounding on this law, a passage of Mishnah, a body of work originally transmitted orally as an interpretation and explanation of Jewish laws, lists a series of pairs of animals which are similar to one another yet are distinct enough such that crossbreeding them would be forbidden. Among the pairs on this list are the village dog and the fox (village dog as opposed to hunting dog mentioned previously in a different pair).


Rabbi Isaac son of Melchizedek, who lived c. 1070-1150 in Siponto, Italy, writes on this, in defining the phrase which I've translated above as "village dog," (my translation, parentheses added for clarification, brackets added to expand his "etc." based on the original passage he cites):

כלב קטן שצווח בלילה במדברות מן כפרים. תנינן בבבא קמא במרובה מגדלים כלבים כופרים וכו׳ לעז מלקו

A small dog which cries in the night in the wilderness from the villages. We have learned in (Tractate) Baba Kama, in (the chapter) Merubah (folio 80b), "We may raise village dogs[, cats, monkeys, and genets, because they serve to clean the house of vermin]." מלקו in foreign tongue.

Throughout his work he refers to some words as "in Greek" and others as "in foreign tongue," so I assume that this word is intended to be Latin or proto-Italian. Because he does not include vowels, it's hard to tell if this word is meant to be pronounced m.lko, m.lku, or m.lk.v, where the periods are some vowel.

In summary, then, I'm trying to figure out this word which is:

  1. Pronounced m.lko, m.lku, or m.lk.v;
  2. Refers to a type of dog which was commonly kept in rural villages to aid in extermination;
  3. Was not used for hunting.

Obviously dog breeds in the modern sense did not exist back then, so even an identification of the Latin word, even if it just translates into "village dog for rat extermination," would be helpful.

Any help in deciphering this word and translating it to English would be of immense help.

  • @d_e Great find! I see another letter after the q that's been rubbed out, but I can't make it out either. (Out of curiosity, what does fibri mean that you searched for that with canis?) – DonielF Feb 28 at 16:12
  • Welcome to the site! Could the word in question refer to the verb to rise instead? FWIW, I searched a dictionary for Latin words in the form m + vowel + lc-. The only loosely related terms I found were a handful of words with the root mulc- related to the verb to milk. Including mulctus, the animal being milked, arguably a village/domestic animal. – Rafael Feb 28 at 16:56
  • @DonielF, In another forum I had the offer from another forum: "molosso" which is the Italian for "Molossian dog". so if it could מלצו instead of מלקו. i.e the letter צ instead of ק, it might be promising maybe? – d_e Feb 29 at 8:18
  • @d_e I have a hard time justifying that. It’s not like a switch between, say, a ד and a ר where the letters look similar. – DonielF Mar 1 at 1:14
  • @Rafael How would that fit in context, translating it as to rise or some form of milk? – DonielF Mar 1 at 1:15
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-ico- is a regular suffix forming an adjective from a noun.

mĕlicus melodious. mĕlicae sonores, tuneful sounds (Lucretius)

More promising is

mēles, also mēlis, -is f. also mælis, a badger or pine marten.
Source: Lewis&Short: Perseus Tufts

The adjective melicus could mean
.1. An actual badger kept for hunting wild bees.
.2. Any grizzled animal; e.g. melicae galinae are Turkey hens. But by extension, maybe, a black and white rough-haired terrier.
.3. A badger hunting terrier, such as a Dachshund (established 300 yrs ago). Terriers and hounds are very different from each other. Their pointed muzzles might explain association with fox.

| improve this answer | |
  • Definitely promising! – DonielF Mar 1 at 4:44

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