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I saw a TV documentary today which claimed that salmon was named in Latin by Julius Caesar. It was a side remark, but the narrator elaborated that he saw this fish in Gaul and gave it its name due to its leaps. However, I did not manage to find anything to support this claim.

So: Do we know if salmo is connected to salire? The derivative looks unusual to me, and I can't think of any other similar pair in Latin. Did Caesar even discuss salmons in the first place? Is there any truth to the story, or should I dismiss it as folk etymology?

In case anyone is interested, it was mentioned around 10:54–11:14 in this Finnish documentary. (It can only be viewed from within Finland, and it is in Finnish.)

  • All the sources I've found so far refer to this as a "probable speculative etymology." I cannot find any classical sources attributing this name to Caesar. – brianpck Mar 8 '17 at 22:52
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The derivation from salire is probably a folk etymology, especially since it does not explain the second syllable of salmo.

Walde, Latein. Etym. Wb., says that salmo, and also salar “trout”, are borrowed from Celtic, comparing Old Irish selige “turtle”, the Celtic source being cognate with Latin saliva, though this too does not explain the final -mo(n). Note however the hydronym Salmona (modern Salm), a tributary of the Mosel.

Unfortunately, the new etymological dictionary by de Vaan has no entry for these words, presumably because the author also believes that they are loan words (and hence not admitted to his dictionary).

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    Walde-Hofmann reject the connection with salīva ("hat nichts für sich"). They also reject the "jump" derivation, but without explaining why: the suffix could be the same as in pulmō, sermō (and Greek τλήμων, etc.). Then again a connection with sal "salt, sea" comes to mind... And salmon are not native to the Mediterranean so it could easily be a loanword after all. – TKR Mar 9 '17 at 0:50
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    @TKR. Thanks for this. I only had access to Walde 1910, not Hoffmann's improved edition. Of the various suggestions in circulation the best is surely to connect it with the river Salm(ona), which, apparently, was at one stage rich in salmon. In this case it is likely to be Celtic, or indeed pre-Celtic. – fdb Mar 9 '17 at 8:58
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    Though of course the river name could come from the fish word, rather than the other way around... – TKR Mar 9 '17 at 21:33

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