Hope I found the right place to ask and we can avoid a migration to Linguistics or History SE

Wikipedia says it is Αμμόχωστος that developed into Famagusta (original Famagouste in French). How did it so? What is the etymology? It seems like 2 distinct words with no etymological relation.

In antiquity, the town was known as Arsinoe[4] (Ancient Greek: Ἀρσινόη), after the Greek queen Arsinoe II of Egypt, and was mentioned by that name by Strabo. In the 3rd century book Stadiasmus Maris Magni, the city is described as Ammochostos (Αμμόχωστος),[5] meaning "hidden in [the] sand", the name still used by Greeks. This name developed into Famagusta (originally Famagouste in French and Famagosta in Italian)

If understand correctly they are refering to Αμμόχωστος and not Αρσινόη that developed into Famagusta but either way I see no etymological relation.

  • 6
    Change the ch to a g (both consonants in a similar part of the mouth), the -os to -a (probably just to make it a more natural ending for the new language) and then change the vowels a little, and the only 'big' difference is gaining the f at the start.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Jan 22 at 7:25
  • I immediately thought of the digamma ('ϝ'), which had the sound /w/, but was lost in most Greek dialects before the Classical period. I can't find anything that suggests that it survived in Cypriot Greek, though, so it is probably not relevant.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 22 at 21:58
  • 2
    Stems don't lie. Looks like fanciful folk etymology. Cartographers and Geographers indulged in it a lot. May not have visited the places they depict. Commented Jan 26 at 17:29
  • 3
    I don't get you. The French authors, reflecting a helper's corrupted pronunciation "Famagusta", possibly parsed it, erroneously, as Fama Augusta. Are you referring to the giving or the taking, an aside setting the stage? It is significant that one of the alternate names, "Amagusta" misses the F! Commented Jan 26 at 17:49
  • 1
    You might appreciate this. Note in it the Arabic corruption al-Makhusah, and the 1573 (Etienne de Lusignan): “So then Famagosta got its name. In Roman times some say it was called in Greek Amochusta, which means in Latin "hidden in the sand", because there is nothing but sand around, but the word has been corrupted into Famagosta. It developed with the destruction of Salamis." Commented Jan 26 at 19:51

1 Answer 1


It is a corruption of Αμμόχωστος. I'm organizing my non-expert comments here, hoping a linguist (Should this be posted in the Linguistics SE?) could put the rare initial F in some context—the 500lb gorilla here. (The closest I could come to it is considering the reverse fate of f⟶h in Spanish.)

When it comes to corruptions, Greek takes as good as it gives (consider ντολμαδάκια; or the French names in the early 15th century Chronicle of Μαχαιρᾶς). The Turkish corruption is Mağusa, and the Arabic al-Makhusah. The initial F appears to be missing from non-Latin language corruptions.

The consonants of the stem mangle in the standard fashion for corruptions of Greek. The velar χ morphs to other velars, /st/ to easy equivalents in the target languages, and the [m] is retained. Retention of the [m] and the /st/ are significant. Coincidence? Unlikely. Unaccented ending syllables can be weakened and dropped in French, and mis-restored in Italian.

Leontios Mahairas' Chronicle uses Ἀμόχουστος consistently, with narry an F. He's dropped one μ in the spelling (but Cypriot dialects geminate those), and morphed the unaccented ω to a ου, standard in Greek dialects. He spent a lifetime in diplomatic negotiations in (some type of Occitan) Lingua Franca (literally), so he might be tempted to use the latin variant, but he didn't.

One Latin version in the linked Geographical dictionary uses "Amagusta" without the F!

  • 1
    I would be happy to post a question in the Linguistics SE but I am afraid it would be considered a duplicate. Commented Jan 27 at 16:29
  • Suitably adapted and linking to this one, I think it would be legitimate, if it emphasizes the mysterious initial F tacked on. It's hard to imagine this is an isolated phenomenon, and, as admitted, I have failed to track it down anywhere except here. The reason I brought up Spanish is because its sounds and consonant transitions really echo those of post-classical Greek... Commented Jan 27 at 16:53
  • 1
    I think it's fine here. We do have some linguists here as well.
    – cmw
    Commented Jan 27 at 19:18
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. Commented Jan 28 at 12:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.