I have to translate the word 'stirrup' into Latin. Since the Romans (famously) rode without stirrups I can find no useful classical reference and have decided to use stapes, which is used by physicians to describe the smallest bone in the human body (in the ear).

The bone is exactly of the right shape. Does anyone know the origin of this word? Or has any opinion or advice on its declension? My instinct is for 3rd Decl., gen. stapitis, rather than 5th, gen stapei.

  • Ainsworth marks stapes -edis with an asterisk (borrowed/ late /dictionaries) and attributes it to Jun. Alternative, from an inscription, stapia.
    – Hugh
    Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 13:58
  • @Hugh Can you add that information to your answer? It's part of the answer, not a comment, the way it looks to me.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 17:58

2 Answers 2


From what I've been able to determine, it might come from a Germanic word cognate with English "step" (from PGmc *stap-iz "step, stirrup"), or it might be a Late Latin combination of sta- "stand" and ped- "foot". Or both!

Either way, the declension was stapēs, stapedis, and it's well-attested in post-classical sources. I'd say you've definitely made the right choice.

  • Thank you. Exactly what I needed, and especially thanks for pointing me to gen. stapedis, which feels much more comfortable than stapitis (which I formed on the pattern of stipes.
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 19:43

In Ainsworth English-Latin there are three words for Stirrup.

A stirop, or stirrup, Scabelum, vel scamillum, equestre pendulum ; subex pedaneus, //* stapes.

*Stapes is not included in the main Latin-English section, but in a later section. "obsoletae, dubiae, corruptae Latinitatis."

Stapes, edis, m A stirrup, Jun. Stapia, f. Vet. Inscript.

Scamillum, i n. (also scamillus -i m.) a footstool, a little bench. [so... a hanging equstrian foot-support]
Subex, -icis f (1) anything put under,(Ennius) (2) a stirrup (Bud.)

Voss. a dictionary writer quoted by Ainsworth gives alternative spellings.

Strepa, al. Strapa, Stapes Voss. Strepus pro Strepus vel Stropus vel Stroppus Id.

and from Isidore, Spanish Bishop of Seville, encyclopaedist 'Etymologies':

Strupes, id. quod Scalmus Isid.

Scalmus is a primitive rowlock, a round piece of wood to which the oar is attached with a leather strap (and by synecdoche a boat) both uses Cicero

  • Thank you, although I think that you've missed the point of the question. I have already chosen stapes as the word to use, and wish to know its origin, if possible, and (also if possible) to be directed to its proper declension.
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 17:54
  • Clearly I didn't signpost Stapes, edis, m A stirrup, clearly enough. But I'm still not convinced that step is the etymology, compared with στροφ- and strop (naval) a loop, and strep, strap, stroppus a tie, a binding. And now I've run into too many culs de sac to take it further.
    – Hugh
    Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 20:29
  • And the answer to your third question, is that stapia (ancient inscriptions may be the earliest usage. The earliest dateable form is stapeda, -ae, f. in Folieto author of 'de avibus' etc. fl.1130.
    – Hugh
    Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 20:42

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