Definition of *phusati* in the PTS Dictionary

A bit of confusion here for me that hopefully someone with a bit (or, better yet, a lot) more Pali knowledge might clear up.

The PTS entry for phusati gives two definitions… kind of. The first is straightforward, but the second doesn’t actually include any definition. Rather, it gives an extended explanation of the term’s two supposed Sanskrit derivations with the qualification that this second “definition” is “a specific Pali form.” And it includes no citations.

My question is this: What does it mean in saying “a specific Pali form”? Is the second one not the same phussati/phassa we’re all familiar with? or, does it represent some other (perhaps cognate) term? If so, what is the relationship between these two phusatis?

(Actually, that leads me to ask what the relationship might be between the two Sanskrit derivations for the latter entry and the former–i.e., the common phusati/phassa.)

Thank you.

i understand “phussa” as “touch” or “coming in contact with” or “connecting with”. (similar to “phassa” but not the “contact” as in “phassa paccaya vedana”).

navanca kammam na karoti. puranca kammam phussa phussa vyanti karoti. (anguttara nikaya. nigantha sutta). it appears ven. sujato has translated “phussa” as “experiencing”.

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The Rhys Davids PTS dictionary doesn’t have a consistent structure or terminology, like for example Cone’s dictionary, so what “a specific Pali form” means precisely, I’m not sure, but it seems to mean it doesn’t occur in Sanskrit as such. But then this could be added to many other entries which don’t have it…

What I do know, though, is when there are two entries with numbers behind it, like phusai1and phusati2 it means the words are homonyms: they have the same form but are linguistically different in meaning and derivation. (Like bark1 of a dog and bark2 of a tree.) One reason this can happen, as here, is when different Sanskrit roots turn out the same in their Pali form. So its kind of a coincidence and there is no linguistic relation between the two. In this case there are three Sanskrit roots according to the dictionary, but two are so closely linked they are treated under the same entry (phusati2).


I kind of figured as much initially, but there are quite a few things which gave me pause.

First, the three derivations given all seem very close: that is, the two latter ones don’t immediately appear any closer to each other than either of them do to the first, neither orthographically nor semantically. The first root is written spṛś while the second and third are *sp(h)ṛj and *spṛk. The meanings given for the latter two–burst forth and sprinkle–with their obvious rain imagery, look to me like consecutive stages in rainfall; in which case, I see no reason why the more common phusati, “touch,” couldn’t represent the third: i.e., raindrops actually touching or contacting the ground (or whichever surface they chanced to hit).

This, in fact, is hinted at (albeit somewhat obliquely) in the Pheṇapiṇḍūpamasutta when the Buddha likens vedanā to the bubbles produced when raindrops strike the surface of water. The word used in that sutta to signify a raindrop is, in fact, phusita, which seems to be a homonym (or cognate) for a touch as well.

I think the above reasoning signifying a connection between all three terms is solid; my problem is I can’t understand why PTS makes the distinction between the first and the latter two. Perhaps it’s because the first is based on a well-known Sanskrit root, whereas the other two have only imagined reconstructions to go on? All in all, I think perhaps you were correct when you said

I really wish they’d’ve given some examples for the final two, though; that would’ve made things much easier when trying to distinguish the different shades of meaning.

Perhaps that’s it? the meanings are too hard to distinguish?

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Are you referring to PED or DOP? (both published by the Pali Text Society)

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PED. The entries are a little long, so I didn’t want to post the whole thing. See here.

Do you think the DOP might be clearer? Is it even online?

Margaret Cone’s Dictionary of Pali in many ways supersedes the venerable Pali English Dictionary.
Scholarly investigations are probably best directed there, although there is still one volume pending.

I’m not aware of DOP online.
If you have a specific question I can look there for you.

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In the sutta you cited, "thulla-phusitake"is phusita + ka, (a rain drop). The word can be derived from Skt pṛṣata.
The verb phusati can be derived from spṛśati. So it seems while the 2 are homonyms in Pāli they are distinct in Sanskrit.
This happens quite often, a famous example is dīpa, which can mean both lamp and island in Pāli.


Wow! Thanks. That’s really nice of you to offer.

If you see where I was going with this thread, PED kind of left with the connection between the common phusati (to contact) and these others which they claim stem from other roots. I don’t want to ask you to search all around the world. (These things quickly become rabbit holes.) Perhaps you could just see what DOP has under phusati to see if she even mentions these other derivations and/or if she bridges the meaning any better than the PED did.


DOP only has one very long (about 6 columns of small print) entry for phusati, the meaning given is cf. S. spṛśati.

There is also a separate entry for phusāyati, ‘sprinkles’ (cf S. pruṣṇoti, pruṣāyati).

And the entry, mentioned by me in an above text, for the noun phusita “a drop, a drop of rain”.


Yeah, but it’s listed as an either-or. And, with all of these semantically relatable, near-homophonous roots flying around, it’s hard to imagine they are not cognate some how.

To be clear, I’m not arguing for a single root for all of these (at least not a retrievable one, anyway), just exploring intriguing connections.

I don’t understand what you mean by “as an either-or”.

Words can appear as homonyms in Pāli due to the way they resolve from Sanskrit into Pāli.
For example, skt. dvīpa → P. dīpa. (island) But it is etymologically unrelated to dīpa (dīpyate) ‘lamp’.

Okay. Thanks. I would say that probably about does it, then. I don’t think we’ll get any farther on this.

Thanks to all for the interest and the assistance.

Nerding out with friends on Pali etymologies: what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

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My mistake. The PED entry gave the derivation for phusita is listed as “either pp. of phusati2 or direct correspondent of Sk. pṛṣata”. Looking at the page very quickly in a rush to respond, I mistakenly read this as “pp. of phusati1,” which would have been “touch.”

Through a quirk of Pāli morphology, rather different Sanskrit words can appear as the same in Pāli.
So, Sk. pṛṣata (rain drop) can appear on the page to look like the past participle of the Pāli verb ‘phusati’.
But they really don’t have an etymological relationship.

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Indeed. But my original question wasn’t really about the Pali as much as the Sanskrit roots for phusati, given by the PED as spṛś, (“touch”) *sp(h)ṛj (“bursting forth”) and *spṛk (“sprinkle”). And, in fact, the PED lists pṛṣata (“raindrop”) as deriving from that third root. So, I would say that the author of the PED at least felt they did have an etymological relationship.

Have a look at the PED entry first, and, if you still think there’s no relationship, I’d be happy to discuss it further.

Good morning, @stephen:

I haven’t heard any response from you as of yet. I think the protocol for Q&A posts is that they should come to some sort of conclusion if not a solution whenever possible; so, if I don’t hear anything in a few hours, I’m going to figure you have nothing further to say, and I’ll close the thread.

Thank you for your contributions and your assistance with the DOP. I’ll definitely do my best to get my hands on one in the future.

Published about 100 years ago, the Pali Text Society’s Pali English Dictionary has proven to be an exceptionally durable and reliable source. It’s the main reference for most English speaking students of Pali today, I use the University of Chicago’s on-line version daily. (although I am very fond of my print copy!)
Margaret Cone’s Dictionary of Pali is now considered the definitive statement on the subject, the fourth and final volume is still pending.