Cannabis, Canapa & Kanap

Language & Culture

Cannabis, Canapa & Kanap

This text talks about the term 'cannabis' as we wonder if there is a link between the Italian word 'canapa' and 'kanap' ('rope') in BCS.

The Italian documentary ‘Canapa Nostra’ (2019) made me think about the word ‘canapa’. It has raised a question. Is this word somehow related to the Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian word ‘kanap’ (‘rope’)? The documentary has provided insight into the history of this plant. Furthermore, it talks about the economical consequences of its prohibition in different societies, but also about contemporary trends in the European Union including Italy.

We know that the plant was used for years in different ways. On the website of the University of Sydney, there is a short review of how the plant had been exploited for medical purposes from 2800 BC until the nineties of the past century. Nowadays, this topic is quite a hotspot as there are ‘controversial’ products deriving from this plant. Besides its medical presence (which is not what I as a philologist want to discuss), we learn that the cannabis plant can be used for three products: marijuana, cannabidiol and hemp products. Hemp products are important at this point as they include fibres, ropes as well as textiles and fabrics for clothing and footwear.

Ropes are interesting because some speculations say that hemp ropes could have been used even in architecture. Here we come to the point where the word ‘rope’ has come to my attention. We know that the word ‘cannabis’, as a universally exploited good in the past, has a similar name in different languages even nowadays: ‘kanabis’, ‘kanp’ (Albanian), ‘kanabis’, ‘konoplja’ (Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian), ‘kannabis’, ‘kanep’ (Estonian), ‘cannabis’, ‘canapa’ (Italian), ‘kannabista’ (Finnish) etc. On the other hand, there are some languages such as Turkish for instance in which the word ‘cannabis’ doesn’t sound as we might expect it to sound. It is ‘esrar’.

So, words that have a lot in common with the terms ‘cannabis’, ‘canapa’, ‘kanep’ etc. can be found in many different cultures around the world. They sound similar and they have the same meaning. What makes me excited, now that we know we could have made ropes of cannabis, is the word ‘kanap’ or ‘konopac’ in BCS. Despite its material, ‘rope’ is always ‘kanap’ or ‘konopac’.

In BCS, we can use a few other synonyms such as ‘uže’ or ‘laso’, but they do not erase the most frequent terms (‘kanap’, ‘konopac’) from the lexical corpus of the language. It makes me wonder if this plant has anything to do with how we have got these two words in BCS. In addition, we must admit that neither the English word ‘rope’ nor for example Italian ‘la corda’ is similar to the word ‘cannabis’, ‘cannabus’, ‘cannabum’ or ‘κάνναβις’. Is there, however, a mysterious link between the Italian word ‘canapa’ and ‘kanap’ (‘rope’) in the BCS language we are unaware of?

NOTICE: This text is not peer-reviewed. It aims to inspire and motivate language learners of Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian to think about possible cultural patterns when learning this/these language(s).