Hi guys, I should like to start a discussion on this.
Some basic material:-
http://www.bartleby.com/61/roots/IE92.html American Heritage on IE. root DHE-
http://www.bartleby.com/61/roots/IE94.html American Heritage on IE. root DHEI
http://www.bartleby.com/61/roots/IE92.html American Heritage on IE. root DHEIGH
There is a clear semantic and phonematic relation between these three roots, which I would argue are not distinct: the latter two are merely variants of the main root DHE-.
The dominant semantic content of all three roots is at its simplest set, do, make and the semantic value of suck or suckle occures only very tangentially. Even the lexicon under the American heritage entry for IE. DHE-, which it glosses as 'suck', has (for the most part) nothing to do with that meaning. In fact the only word with content of suck or suckle which one can positively associate to this root is the Greek verb thelaxo. This is itself an immediate derivate of Gr. thele nipple which is itself closely related to a Greek lexicon with basic senses of produce, be abundant, be fertile, nourish, care for. From this we can see that the semantic basis of Gr. thele is something like nourishing thing with specialization to nipple.
I am reasonably sure that the basic semantic value of L. femina has nothing to do with 'suck' or 'suckle'. I have dealt with this in some detail in a fully sourced article which is available (for free but copyright asserted) at:
The punchline is that L. femina has a more probable semantic origin of female producer or perhaps female producer of small things.
It should also be noted that the definition is wrong: in Latin femina means, primarily, female of any species and, secondly, woman. This is why, for example, in Italian is offensive to refer to a woman as "una femmina" because the secondary sense of woman came to be represented by the much more polite (indeed courtly) word It. donna (from L. domina, fem. of L. dominus master of a house; lord). With that development, only the primary sense of female (of any species) survives in It. femmina. Generally, in all languages which have descendants or derivates of L. femina, caution is required with some of those words (because they may be pejorative) - all going back to the primary Latin sense of female animal.
My Wiki style is not very good and I do not make unilateral changes anyway. If people agree with me, a basic entry could be something as follows:-
The orthodox etymology is Indo-European ("IE") *dhê-, to suck or suckle, referring to the suckling of infants. Further detail on this root may be seen at http://www.bartleby.com/61/roots/IE94.html. However the dominant semantic value of Latin words from this root have no relation to 'suck' or 'suckle'; instead they point to more general meanings related to 'produce, be fertile'. This is consistent with the close relation between IE. *dhê- and IE. *dhê(i)- (see http://www.bartleby.com/61/roots/IE92.html) which has a basic sense of 'set, do' and secondary senses of 'make', 'produce'. It is therefore arguable that the basic semantic value of L. femina is not 'suck' or 'suckle' but one of the more basic meanings, giving the word the meaning 'female producer'.
It has also been proposed that the -MIN- in L. femina has semantic content as 'small' (cf. L. minor, minus, minister) in which case the word could have the specific meaning of 'female producer of small things'.]
As stated, the definition should also be "female (of any species); human female, woman." That is the orthodox translation of the Latin.
I would therefore invite interested parties to examine the orthodox etymology, which seems to me a male-dominant folk-etymology. The semantic result I argue for is hardly less sexist - it is just where the (abundant) evidence takes us.
My regards, EdwardAftung 13:19, 11 March 2008 (UTC)