Tuesday, October 22, 2019

geshem

What's the connection between the Hebrew word geshem - גשם - "rain" and gashmi גשמי - "physical"?

From my initial research, no. Geshem is a biblical word for rain, and appears about as frequently in the Bible as its synonym matar מטר. In Talmudic Hebrew, however, geshem became the nearly exclusive word for rain, and so it is also today.

Gashmi was borrowed into Medieval Hebrew from Arabic, which in turn is cognate with the Aramaic geshem (or gishma גשמא) meaning "body." That word is also biblical, appearing a few times in the Aramaic section of the book of Daniel. From "body" it came to mean "substance, matter", and this also led to the verbs higshim הגשים - "was carried out" or "embodied" and hitgashem התגשם - "was realized, fulfilled."

Once these verb forms entered Hebrew, it became must less common to use the root גשם to refer to the act of raining (even though there are verbs like that in Biblical Hebrew), but rather the verb form of matar: himtir המטיר -  "to make it rain." From this root we also have the words mitria מטריה - "umbrella" and mamtera ממטרה - "sprinkler."

Many sources I found, including this one from the Academy of the Hebrew Language, said there was no connection between the two homonyms. However, there are those that claim that matar referred to any kind of rain, whereas geshem was a particularly heavy rain. According to this school of thought, geshem could be related to the Arabic jasuma, "to be bulky, thick", which would lead to a connection with the Aramaic geshem - "body" as well.


Monday, October 07, 2019

nusach and nesiya

What is the origin of the Hebrew word nusach נוסח?

Before we delve into the etymology, let's discuss the meaning. Morfix offers "wording, version, style." This is true in the general sense, as in the wording of a particular document. More specifically, when discussing Jewish prayer, as the Wikipedia entry notes, nusach refers to "the style of a prayer service," signifying "the entire liturgical tradition of the community, including the musical rendition."

The related word, nuscha נוסחה means "formula, equation" and is used primarily in mathematical and scientific contexts.

Now to the origin. The original word, from Aramaic, was actually nuscha. It doesn't appear in Talmudic Aramaic, but rather first appears in the writings of the Geonim. Klein has the following entry:

נֻסְחָה f.n. MH 1 copy. 2 text, version. 3 formula. [From Aram. נֻסְחָא (= copy), which is prob. a loan word from Akka. nisḫu, nusḫu (= excerpt, copy), Arab. nusḫa (= copy), is prob. an Aram. loan word.]

 For nusach, he writes that it is a back formation from nuscha.

The authoritative dictionary of Akkadian, the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, mentions the root nishu in a number of locations. (In this PDF, look at pages 23, 31, 289, 291.) Nishu derives from an earlier word, nasahu, meaning "to remove." The CAD provides many different contexts and usages for that sense of "remove." For nuscha meaning "excerpt", they also offer the meaning "extract", which, as in English, has a sense of "remove". Copy, excerpt and extract find their modern day senses in the word processing terms of "cut/copy/paste."

While nuscha only appears in post-Talmudic literature, a related root can be found in the Bible. This is the root נסח, which while appearing in that form in Devarim 28:63, is more commonly found in spoken Hebrew today in the hifil form, where the initial letter nun is dropped. The verb הסיח means "to remove, to put aside, to deflect" and appears in as a noun in the phrase hesech daat היסח דעת - "distraction" (literally, "removal of the mind.")

Dr. Hayim ben Yosef Tawil, in his book An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew (page 241), makes an interesting connection between the root נסח and another, much more common root נסע  - "to travel":

The Biblical Hebrew verb נסע, a variant of נסח, is attested at least 9 times in reference to pulling, uprooting an object. ... e.g., הסיע גפן/עץ "uproot a vine tree" (Ps 80:9; Job 19:10) ... Accordingly, the semantic development of נסע = נסח is: "pull off the pegs of the tent > break camp > move off > travel."

From the root נסע, we get the words masa מסע - "journey" and nesiya נסיעה - "trip."

So we've gone from nusach to nesiya. What a trip it's been!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

shalal

Let's take a look at the word shalal שָׁלָל. It means "spoils, booty, plunder" and according to Klein, derives from the root שלל meaning "to spoil, to plunder, to deprive" and has the following origin:

Akka. shalālu, OSArab. תלל (= to plunder), and Arab. thalla (= flock of sheep or goats). cp. the related base נשׁל.]
The root נשל, in turn, means "to slip or drop off; to draw off."

Klein writes that this original root of שלל developed into two more meanings. One is found only once in the Bible:

שׁלל ᴵᴵ to draw out (sheaves).
    — Qal - שָׁלַל he drew out sheaves (a hapax legomenon in the Bible, occurring Ruth 2:16 in the phrase שֹׁל־תָּשֹׁלוּ, ‘you shall draw out (from the bundles)’. [Arab. salla (= he pulled out, withdrew). A special sense development of שׁלל ᴵ. cp. the related base שׁלה ᴵᴵ.] 

 The root שלה - "to draw out" - gives us a number of familiar words:


  • shilya שליה - "placenta" (drawn out of the womb)
  • shilhey שלהי - "the latter part of, the end of" (literally going away, leaving)
  • shaldag שלדג - "kingfisher". Klein presents this etymology: "Coined by H.N. Bialik (1873–1934) as the abbreviation of שׁוֹלֶה דָּגִים, ‘(the bird) that draws out fishes’, from שׁוֹלֶה, part. of שָׁלָה (= he drew out), and דָּג (= fish)." It is also the name of an elite unit in the Israeli army.

A third meaning of שלל is the one most frequently found in Modern Hebrew. Klein suggests these meanings: "to remove; to refuse, to negate, to deny." When an army took the spoils, they "removed" them from those they defeated. So today when we use the verb shalal it generally means someone "rejected, denounced, ruled out" or "negated, refuted, disproved." From here we get the related words shelila שלילה - "rejection, invalidation, elimination" and shelili שלילי - "negative."

Another form of that verb is hishtolel השתולל. Today it means "to misbehave, to act unruly", but it originally meant "to be deranged", and Ben Yehuda indicates it therefore meant "to be lacking sanity."

One word that does not seem to fit this pattern is shelal שלל - "abundance". Klein says that this post-Biblical word (he defines as "bunch") actually comes from an unrelated homonym of שלל. This root means "to stitch loosely, join together loosely, to chain, fetter." He provides two possible etymologies:

Prob. denominated from שַׁלְשֶׁלֶת (= chain). However, it is also possible that שׁלל in this sense is a Shaph‘el verb formed from לוּלָאָה (= loop), so that שׁלל ᴵⱽ would properly mean ‘to tie with loops’.
Based on this meaning of the root, he writes that shelal was originally from the phrase shelal shel beitzim שלל של ביצים - "embryonic eggs joined together."

However, Even Shoshan says that shelal too originates in the meaning of "spoils". A victor reviewing his spoils would find a bounty before him, as in the metaphor found in Tehilim 119:162:

שָׂשׂ אָנֹכִי עַל־אִמְרָתֶךָ כְּמוֹצֵא שָׁלָל רָב׃
I rejoice over Your word as one who finds great spoil. 



An example of this sense development is found in the Song of Devorah (Shoftim 5:30):

הֲלֹא יִמְצְאוּ יְחַלְּקוּ שָׁלָל רַחַם רַחֲמָתַיִם לְרֹאשׁ גֶּבֶר שְׁלַל צְבָעִים לְסִיסְרָא שְׁלַל צְבָעִים רִקְמָה צֶבַע רִקְמָתַיִם לְצַוְּארֵי שָׁלָל׃
“They must be dividing the spoil they have found: A damsel or two for each man, Spoil of dyed cloths for Sisera, Spoil of embroidered cloths, A couple of embroidered cloths Round every neck as spoil.” 
Shelal tzevaim - "a spoil of color(ed cloths)" took on the sense of "an abundance (or variety) of colors."

So now we can see how one root developed into both very negative and very positive connotations.


Monday, September 02, 2019

ichpat

The Hebrew verb ichpat איכפת is strange. (It is sometimes pronounced in Modern Hebrew as echpat, perhaps because it is more commonly written as אכפת - without a yod - and therefore looks like another similarly structured word אפשר, pronounced efshar. To hear the word in Hebrew, along with many examples of current usage, listen to this episode of the great podcast Streetwise Hebrew.)

While commonly translated as "to care", I think a better translation would be "to matter" or "to concern", since it is always followed by the preposition "to" as in lo ichpat li or ma ichpat lecha, which mean "[it] doesn't matter to me" and "what [does it] concern you". It is the root of the word ichpatiut - איכפתיות - "empathy" (discussed at length here).

What is the etymology of the word?

It first appears in post-biblical Hebrew, and Even-Shoshan notes that it was borrowed from Aramaic (for example in the Targum to Divrei Yamim I 21:13), where it is a form of the (related) Hebrew roots אכף or כפה, meaning "force, compel".  This is also a theory presented by Klein:


אִכְפַּת intr. v. PBH to pressure, to care, concern. [Of uncertain etymology. Perles connects it with Syr. אֱכַף (= he had regard to, was solicitous, took care of). See אכף ᴵ.] 
His entry for אכף is as follows:

אכף ᴵ to press force.
    — Qal - אָכַף he pressed, urged (in the Bible, a hapax legomenon occurring Pr. 16:26). [JAram. אֲכַף, Syr. אֱכַף (= he pressed, pressed hard, urged), Akka. ukkupu (= to urge).]

In Modern Hebrew אכף means "to enforce",  and akifa אכיפה means "enforcement." Klein suggests that ukaf אוכף - "saddle", also may derive from this root. Jastrow makes the same connection, and offers a common meaning - "burden".

A different theory connecting ichpat and ukaf is presented by Horowitz (p. 90). He writes that

the basic thought here is "resting upon." The saddle rests upon the horse. Ma ichpat li מה איכפת לי really means how does this rest upon me, and figuratively, of course, how does this concern me.

This is similar to the position of the Arukh, who says the root means "to bind" (so possibly deriving from the root כפת - "to bind"), and in the same way a saddle is bound to a horse, this "thing" is now connected to me.

In the footnotes of the Ben Yehuda dictionary, all of these suggestions are discussed, and in the end, none appear convincing. But ma ichpat li? It was fun looking into them!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

sababa and machloket

I found a couple of interesting etymologies related to words that we've discussed before, so I thought I'd share them with you now.

Back in 2006, we talked about the word tzvi צבי. I wrote that Klein:


connects it to the root צבה - meaning "to wish, desire". This verb is found in Aramaic Daniel 6:18, in the Aramaic translations to Biblical Hebrew words such as חשק, חפץ and רצון (all meaning will or desire), and in the Talmud as well (Yoma 86b, 87a). Therefore a translation of Eretz HaTzvi could be "a desirable land", which would pair up well with the phrase ארץ חמדה - Eretz Hemda, which means the same thing.
From this root we also get the Hebrew word צביון tzivyon, which originally meant "will or desire", later became "beauty", and in Modern Hebrew means "character, nature".

Well, this apparently is also the root of the Hebrew slang word sababa סבבה - meaning "cool".  As Shoshana Kordova writes:

Sababa is one of several Hebrew slang words meaning “great” or “cool” and can express enthusiasm, satisfaction or assent (“sure,” “no problem”).
“How was your presentation? Did everything go as planned?” one colleague might ask another. “Oh yeah,” the response might be. “It all went sababa, no hitches.”
Sababa comes from the Arabic word tzababa, which means “great” or “excellent” in spoken Arabic, though it is also a more formal Arabic word meaning “yearning” or “strong love.” 

So this meaning of "yearning, strong love" in Arabic for tzababa is cognate with the Hebrew צבה, also meaning "desire."

**

In 2017, I discussed the root חלק, meaning to divide. It is the root of the word machloket מחלוקת, meaning "division, dispute, disagreement."

This word appears in a well-known mishna (Avot 5:17) -

כָּל מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, אֵין סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. אֵיזוֹ הִיא מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת הִלֵּל וְשַׁמַּאי. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת קֹרַח וְכָל עֲדָתוֹ:

Every machloket that is for the sake of Heaven, will in the end endure; But one that is not for the sake of Heaven, will not endure. Which is the machloket that is for the sake of Heaven? Such was the machloket of Hillel and Shammai. And which is the machloket that is not for the sake of Heaven? Such was the machloket of Korah and all his congregation. 
The word machloket in this English translation originally appeared as "dispute" and "controversy." However, Safrai, in his commentary, says that this understanding is difficult. Disputes "for the sake of heaven" should be easy to resolve by good arguments, whereas disputes not for the sake of heaven, where personal and external factors are involved, will not be settled by claims of logic.

So Safrai, quoting Melamed, writes that the word machloket here does not mean "dispute", but rather "division", i.e. the different groups (on either side of the debate). This was the meaning in Biblical Hebrew (it appears frequently in Divrei Hayamim), and is parallel to the word miflaga מפלגה - also meaning division (the root פלג means divide as well), and is the word for "political party" in Modern Hebrew. Therefore, Safrai concludes, that groups that are organized for a positive purpose ("for the sake of heaven") will endure.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

tzofeh and tzipui

The Hebrew root צפה has two different meanings.

One means "to look, observe, keep watch, expect", and gives us such words as:

  • tzafui צפוי - "foreseen"
  • tzofeh צופה - "scout"
  • mitzpeh מצפה - "lookout, observatory"
The other meaning of צפה is "to coat, to cover, to overlay." Tzipui ציפוי means "covering, coating, glaze."

Is there any connection between the two meanings?

Klein doesn't indicate any. He provides two distinct etymologies. For the meaning "to look", he writes:

JAram. צְפֵי, אִצְטֽפֵי (= he looked out), Ethiop. tasafawa (= he hoped), New Punic צפא (= seer). cp. also Akka. ṣubbu (= to look at).

And for the meaning "to cover", he simply notes:

JAram. צִפָּא (= laying over, covering).

Not too much to go on there, but certainly no connection is offered. To find some possible theories, we're going to need to go to older dictionaries. Since linguistics was not as developed when they were written, these suggestions are much more speculative. But since there is nothing even in Klein's theory that precludes a connection (like the two roots having clearly distinct origins), it is interesting to read their theories.

Steinberg, in his Milon HaTanach, seems to indicate that the original meaning of the root was "to cover", and the secondary meaning, "to observe", came from the sense "to put one's eye on". If this is the case, perhaps it follows a similar development as the English word "cover", which earlier meant "to put something over something else" and later, in the field of journalism, came to mean "to investigate."

Gesenius says the root means "to shine, to be bright", based on an Arabic cognate. From this, he writes, the meaning "to look out, to view" properly means "to enlighten with the eyes." And he claims that the original meaning of "to cover" was "to overlay with gold or silver", i.e. to make splendid. (Notably, the BDB, which is built on Gesenius, does not mention this theory.)

Jastrow has a similar theory. He also says the original meaning was "to shine." While he doesn't explain the connection between "to shine" and "to look" (I assume it has something to do with light), like Gesenius, he says that "to cover" originally meant "to cover with shining plate."

Finally, Tur Sinai, in a note on Ben Yehuda's entry for the meaning of "to overlay" writes that perhaps this root doesn't mean "to cover" at all, but rather to purify and to improve - "to ennoble" in his words. He then says that this would make the root cognate with an Arabic root צפי meaning "to purify", which is related to another Arabic root צפא, meaning "was pure and clear." If this is the case, Tur Sinai notes, it could be connected to the other Hebrew root, meaning "to see" - which would properly mean "to see clearly." In any case, he summarizes, tzipui in Biblical Hebrew never means to simply cover, but to cover with some better material. 

So did I cover everything?



Monday, August 12, 2019

badeken

Just before the main part of the Jewish wedding ceremony under the chuppah, the groom approaches the bride, and covers her face with a veil. This ceremony is known as the "badeken."

In the past, when I thought about the etymology of the word, I assumed it derived from the Hebrew badak בדק - "to examine." My assumption was based on an association with the story of the wedding of the patriarch Yaakov. He thought he was marrying Rachel, but was deceived, and ended up marrying her sister Leah. Since the badeken ceremony is the last chance for the groom to "inspect" the bride before the chuppah (and in many arranged weddings in earlier times, perhaps the first time he met her at all), I figured this was his opportunity for a bedika בדיקה - "inspection", hence badeken.

But no. This Yiddish word,  באַדעקן,  actually derives from the German bedecken, meaning "to cover" (in this case with a veil). It has an Indo-European etymology:

From Old High German *bidecchen, from Proto-Germanic *biþakjaną, equivalent to be- +‎ decken. Cognate with Dutch bedekken, English bethatch, Swedish betäcka.
I had never heard of the English example bethatch (and neither has my spell checker), but of course it is related to "thatch", which is the covering (i.e. roof) of a house. The Online Etymology Dictionary provides the following entries for thatch:

thatch (v.)
late 14c., thecchen, from Old English þeccan "to cover, cover over, conceal," in late Old English specifically "cover the roof of a house," related to þæc "roof, thatching material," from Proto-Germanic *thakjan (source also of Old Saxon thekkian, Old Norse þekja, Old Frisian thekka, Middle Dutch decken, Dutch dekken, Old High German decchen, German decken "to cover"), from PIE root *(s)teg- "to cover." 
thatch (n.)
Old English þæc "roof, thatch, cover of a building," from Proto-Germanic *thakam (source also of Old Norse þak, Old Frisian thek, Swedish tak, Danish tag, Middle Dutch, Dutch dak "roof," Old High German dah "covering, cover," German Dach "roof"), from PIE root *(s)teg- "to cover."
We've seen *(s)teg before - it's ultimately the root of the Hebrew word tag תג - "crown".  And one more English cognate is the word "deck". The noun refers to the covering of a boat, and the verb means to "adorn, array or clothe with something ornamental (as in deck the halls)." Which is pretty much what the badeken ceremony is - and an easy way to remember the proper etymology.