I am trying to understand the etymology of the Sicilian word "sceccu", which means "burro". Some common explanations for its etymology are that it derives from Turkish eşek ("donkey") or Arabic شيخ‎ ("sheikh"), but I don't find these satisfactory and suspect it has a different origin.

I found some similar looking words with the same meaning in some western romance languages:

  • "jegue" (Portuguese)
  • "jeque" (Old Provençal)
  • "xeque"

Does a similar word exist in Spanish, and if so, what is its etymology?

I guess that "equus" is involved, but I don't understand the j-x-sh at the beginning.

  • sceccu comes from Turkish eşek, and jeque (cognate with sheik) comes from Arabic. jegue is however a Portuguese word of uncertain etymology, possibly a loan from English jackass (see the similar pt. jeque from English jack). Spanish does have yegua (mare) derived from Latin equa (female of equus), but again this is etymologically unrelated. You may want to post this on the Portuguese stack exchange.
    – jacobo
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 10:47
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    Hi, Fabio. "Jegue" and "xeque" do not seem Spanish words, and "jeque" means a completely different thing. Are you asking for the etymology of Italian words? I'm not sure about what your question really is. Are you searching for alternatives in the Spanish language to the word "burro"?
    – Charlie
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 12:04
  • Thank you guys. I am trying to understand the etymology of "sceccu", which is burro in Sicilian. I am asking if there is an OLD spanish (or maybe català) word used before "burro". This because I found "jeque" in old Provencal and "jegue" in Portuguese with that very same meaning. The "Sheik" and the "Turkish" explanations are not satisfactory, from my point of view.
    – Fabio G.
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 15:56
  • Hi @FabioG.- I made some edits to your question based on your comment. Does this accurately reflect what you wished to ask? Note: xeque in Old Spanish (modern jeque) does not mean "burro" - it only means "Sheikh". Also, can you let us know where you found this info on the Provençal word?
    – jacobo
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 16:17
  • 2
    Lambie, we have several words of Spanish origin. Sicily has been an Aragonese-Spanish dominion for centuries, and we have in common the Arab conquest: why do you exclude that option for this specific word? Plus, I am trying to understand the etymology of an (hypotetical) old Spanish synonim of "burro", which can help.
    – Fabio G.
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 17:50

1 Answer 1


Etymology of sceccu

As you note, the etymology for this word has several competing hypotheses, some more convincing than others:

Original Translation
In ogni caso l'etimologia di tale termine e dell'italiano « ciuco » (« ciuchino »), viene dalla voce turca « ešek » = asino (che va letta « escièk »), dalla quale chiaramente deriva il sicilianissimo: « sceccu ».

- Voci orientali nei dialetti di Liguria, Lorenzo Lanteri (1982)
In any case, the etymology of this term and also the one of Italian "ciuco" ("ciuchino"), comes from Turkish "ešek" = donkey (pronounced like "escièk"), from which Sicilian word "sceccu" clearly derives.

Your suggestion that it is cognate to equus (and thus modern Spanish yegua and cebra1) has been proposed before, but the author notes that some etymologists have criticised this as superficially tempting but false:

Original Translation
La fantasia poi l'abbiamo tutti! Se attribuii sceccu ad equus, per la trafila dell'afr. jeque, non ho nè fantasticato, nè supposto miscele eteroclite di voci. Anche l'Avolio avea intravveduto tale etimologia, che pure è stata accettata dal Cesareo.

- Studi glottologici italiani, Vol 8 (sceccu), Vol 3 (equus) (1928)
We can all have imagination! Sceccu has been attributed to equus, through the route from afr. jeque, but I have neither fantasised nor supposed heteroclitic mixtures of vocables. Also Avolio had foreseen such etymology, and has been accepted by Cesareo.

Spanish cognates

If derived from Latin equus, there are two Spanish cognates with similar meanings I am aware of:

  • yegua ← equa
  • cebra ← zebra ← ezebra ← *eciferus ← equiferus ← equus + ferus
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    Good answer. However, not sure how reopening the question to then answer to the Sicilian part is helpful to the Spanish site
    – fedorqui
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 7:26
  • This source is an etymological dictionary of dialectal forms created in the university of Nice. It's mentioned that, according to Gerhard Rohlfs in his Nuovo Dizionario dialettale della Calabria, Longo ed., Ravenna, 1977 [: 1990], the origin of Calabro-Sicilian word sceccu is Turkish ešek, but it may have been introduced through some Arabic speaking.
    – Charo
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 8:47
  • @fedorqui'SOstopharming': The summary that I get from all this is that the fact that Sicilian sceccu was etymologically related to an Spanish word was actually proposed in the past, but more recent studies seem to refute this hypothesis.
    – Charo
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 10:41
  • @Charo yes, I understand (although the translation into Spanish of the relevant parts of the quotes would be useful, since we just can assume English and Spanish understanding in this site). However, my point is that the answer is Sicilian-based, while I think the useful part is to focus on the Spanish one. Specially, to the part that makes it on-topic_ish_ to the site Does a similar word exist in Spanish, and if so, what is its etymology?. (BTW since the OP is long gone now, it is not a bad idea to have reformatted the question to make it more fittable to the site)
    – fedorqui
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 11:33

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