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.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

kesef and kisufim

The Hebrew word kesef כסף - "silver" or "money" and kisufim כיסופים - "longing", share the same root. What is the connection between the the two?

According to most scholars, both words derive from an earlier root meaning "white" or "pale".

For example, Klein, in his entry for the verb כסף - "to long for", writes:

Aram. כְּסַף (was pale, was white; whence ‘was white for shame’, ‘was ashamed’), Arab. kasapha (= was colorless, was obscured, was eclipsed — said of the sun or the moon).

As Stahl writes, both shame and yearning cause a person to become pale.

And Klein continues in his entry for kesef  - "silver":

Related to Phoen. כסף, BAram. and Aram. כְּסַף, כַּסֽפָּא, Syr. כֻּסְפָּא, Ugar. ksp, Akka. kaspu. These words prob. derive from כסף and lit. mean ‘the pale metal’.
In his concordance, Even Shoshan lists three meanings for kesef, seemingly in the order the senses developed:

1) the metal silver, which is the most frequent use of kesef in the Bible
2) an abbreviation of shekel kesef  שקל כסף - "a weight of silver", which represents a particular value of silver, based on a standard weight
3) price, which only appears three times in the Bible. This sense is not connected to silver at all and developed into the common meaning today, "money."


One other word that may derive from this early meaning "white" is Caspian, as in the Caspian Sea. The Online Etymology Dictionary has this entry:

Caspian (adj.)  of or pertaining to the great inland sea of central Asia, 1580s, from Latin Caspius, from Greek Kaspios, named for native people who lived on its shores (but who were said to be originally from the Caucasus), Latin Caspii, from a native self-designation, perhaps literally "white."

This site theorizes that the Semitic word may have come from the Sumerians, and from Mesopotamia, the word spread to the Caucasus.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Buttigieg

Continuing our tour of the Mediterranean, this time we'll look at the name Buttigieg - most famous today as the surname of the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, who is currently running for President of the United States.

Buttigieg is certainly an unusual last name - difficult to spell and to intuit the pronunciation (boot-edge-edge). Pete's father, Joseph, was born in Malta, and their surname is Maltese.

Maltese is a Semitic language (descending from a variety of Arabic), and we've noted before that the name Malta itself is likely of Phoenician origin, and cognate to the Hebrew root מלט malat - "to escape."

So I thought it would be interesting to see if Buttigieg has any cognates familiar to Hebrew speakers. The name derives from the Arabic Abū d-dajāj. Abu literally means father, and dajaj means chickens (or poultry).  Together, the name referred to a dealer in poultry.

Dajaj appears also in the full name of the star Deneb - which was originally known as ḏanab ad-dajāja, “the hen's tail”. Deneb is used frequently in fiction, including Star Trek. (Mayor Pete is a fan of Star Trek, and is quite a linguaphile. I wonder if he's aware of the connection to his name.)

Returning to Buttigieg/Abū d-dajāj, abu is certainly cognate with the Hebrew av אב - "father." But what about dajaj? Any Hebrew relatives?

I'll start out by saying that I was not able to find any clear connection between dajaj and any Hebrew (or Aramaic) word that I know (outside of an Aramaic cognate in this book, but I could not find any other source that mentions such a word). If any of you readers can help, I welcome your input.

 While I could not find any Hebrew cognates, there are cognates in other Semitic languages, including dagag in Ge'ez, also meaning "domestic fowls". In this dictionary of Ge'ez, they write that the word derives "from an onomatopoetic dgdg" and compares to to a word in Sahri (another Semitic language), edegdeg - "make a tapping noise."

If dajaj is of onomatopoetic etymology - the pecking of the chickens - then the search for its origin ends there. But I'm not yet convinced.

This dictionary of Iraqi Arabic says that dagdag  means "to bang, to pound", and dagg means "to grind, to crush". And this database of Semitic roots says that many related languages have similar roots meaning "trample down", "press, squeeze", or  "tap". Perhaps ultimately all of those derive from an onomatopoetic ancestor, but I think that might leave room for some connection to Hebrew. If we consider the theory that some of the most ancient three consonant Semitic roots are based in earlier roots of two consonants (as we discussed here), then perhaps there was a two letter root *dg that meant "to beat, to pound." This would fit an onomatopoetic origin as well, since the sound of *dg is similar to tapping or knocking.

And if that's the case - and I admit I'm speculating here - there are some Hebrew words with related meanings that begin with dg:


  • dagesh דגש  - as we discussed here, originally meant "to pierce"
  • digdeg דגדג - "to tickle", which Ben Yehuda coined from the Arabic daghdagha (a distinct spelling from dajaj)

And if we note the similarity between "g" and "k", we find these as well:


  • dakak דקק - "to crush, pulverize"
  • dakar דקר - "to pierce, stab"
I'm not sure what I think of these options. Ultimately, they're just stabs in the dark...

Monday, July 22, 2019

mayonnaise

After discussing Cyprus and Rhodes, this time we'll look at another Mediterranean island in our discussion of "mayonnaise." (And no, I'm not looking into the origin of Thousand Island dressing.)

The Online Etymology Dictionary provides this possible etymology for mayonnaise:

1815, from French sauce mayonnaise (1806), said by French sources to be corrupted from mahonnaise and to have been named in recognition of Mahon, seaport capital of island of Minorca, captured by France in 1756 after the defeat of the British defending fleet in the Seven Years' War
(For a more detailed discussion about this and other theories about the origin, see this article.)

But of course, we need to go a little deeper. Where did the city of Mahón get its name?

This goes all the way back to the brother of the famous general of Carthage, Hannibal. According to this book,

His youngest brother Mago ... possessed himself of the island now called Minorca, where Port Mahon (Mago's Harbour) still preserves the memory of his visit.

If you're still asking why is all of this being discussed here, we need to remember (as we've discussed before) that Carthage was originally a Phoenician colony, and so they also spoke a Semitic language.

So could this Mago have a Hebrew cognate? This article about Mago Barca says that Mago is from Phoenician mgn, meaning "godsent". This root already seems similar to the Hebrew magen מגן - but in Hebrew it means "shield". Could "godsent" somehow be related to "shield" or "protect"?

Many sources claim that a better translation for "godsent" would be "benefactor" - one who gives or helps others. Perhaps surprisingly, there are two different roots (having the same spelling) for מגן. One  means "to shield, protect" and, as Klein writes, derives from the noun magen, which in turn comes from the root גנן - "to cover, protect."

Regarding the other מגן, he says it means "to deliver up, deliver" and provides this etymology:


Phoen. מגן (= he gave), Aram.-Syr. מַגָּן, Arab. majānan (= as a gift, gratis), Ugar. mgn (= to beseech).

Ibn Ezra, on Bereshit 14:20, points out that in this root the letter mem is radical (part of the root), which is not the case of magen as shield, where the root is גנן and the mem serves as a prefix.

In Biblical Hebrew magen as shield is far more common, but there are three verses where the root מגן means "to give" or "to deliver" - Bereshit 14:20, Hoshea 11:8 and Mishlei 4:9. (Some say that magen in Bereshit 15:1 has the meaning of suzerain or benefactor as well, and not shield as commonly translated.) The root with that meaning appears much more frequently in Talmudic literature.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Rhodes

Last time we talked about the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. This time, we'll discuss a neighboring island: Rhodes.

Rhodes is likely the source of the biblical sea people, sons of Yavan (Greece) known as the Rodanim רודנים, as mentioned in Divrei Hayamim I 1:7. (The parallel text in Bereshit 10:4 lists them as the Dodanim דודנים, but various ancient translates translate that verse with Rodanim.)  And what is the origin of the name Rhodes?

There are a few proposed etymologies, all of which may have some connection to Hebrew.

The Online Etymology Dictionary presents three theories. The first two claim that it derives from:

Greek Rhodos, perhaps from rhodon "rose," or rhoia "pomegranate"

Rhodon as rose is cognate with the Hebrew vered ורד as we discussed earlier, quoting Klein:

Aramaic ורדא, borrowed from Iranian *wrda, whence Greek rodon, whence Latin rosa (=rose)

This article mentions a suggestion that rhoia derives from the Hebrew word for pomegranate, rimmon רימון.

So both of these have a Hebrew connection. In the first one, the Hebrew and Greek have a common ancestor, and in the second the Greek may derive from the Hebrew.

However the Online Etymology Dictionary goes on to make an additional suggestion:

but "more likely" [Room, Adrian, Place Names of the World] from a pre-Greek name, from Phoenician erod "snake," for the serpents which were said to have anciently infested the island.
Phoenician is a Semitic language, very close to Hebrew, however I could not find a Hebrew (or Aramaic) cognate to erod as snake. (Other spellings include hrʿd , rhad  and *ʔar(a)w- ).  Perhaps one of you can?

*** Update ***

Two helpful readers found what might very well be a Hebrew cognate for the Phoenician erod. This is the post-biblical ערוד (alternatively vocalized as arod or arvad/arwad). It appears in Talmudic literature as a snake (or another reptile) as in Berachot 33a and Chullin 127a). This arod should not be confused with the arod of biblical Hebrew (Iyov 39:5), which is an African wild donkey. I haven't found any significant research about the etymology of arvad/arod meaning snake, but it's certainly possible that it is related to the Semitic cognates I mentioned earlier. Great job!

Sunday, July 07, 2019

copper, Cyprus, cypress and gopher

Sometimes it feels like tracking the etymologies of words is like a centuries long game of telephone. Let me show you what I mean.

Here's the Online Etymology Dictionary for the word "copper":

late Old English coper, from Proto-Germanic *kupar (source also of Middle Dutch koper, Old Norse koparr, Old High German kupfar), from Late Latin cuprum, contraction of Latin Cyprium (aes) "Cyprian (metal)," after Greek Kyprios "Cyprus"

So copper comes from Cyprus (both linguistically and physically). Where does the name Cyprus come from?

large eastern Mediterranean island, late 14c., Cipre, Cipres, from Latinized form of Greek Kypros "land of cypress trees"

Cyprus/cypress. Fair enough. So what is the etymology of cypress? Here we get to a Hebrew connection:

from Old French cipres (12c., Modern French cyprès), from Late Latin cypressus, from Latin cupressus, from Greek kyparissos, probably from an unknown pre-Greek Mediterranean language. Perhaps it is related to Hebrew gopher, name of the tree whose wood was used to make the ark (Genesis vi.14).

Here we probably have arrived at almost the end of the line. Klein doesn't have much to offer as to the origin of gofer גפר:

m.n. ‘gopher’ (a kind of wood of which Noah’s ark was made). [Of unknown origin. Perhaps related to Akka. giparu.]

Sarna, in his JPS commentary on the one appearance of gofer (Bereshit 6:14), writes:

Many modern scholars prefer the cypress both because of a similarity in sound to the Hebrew and because it was widely used in shipbuilding in ancient times, due to its resistance to rot.

Giparu meant a kind of reed in Akkadian. It's unclear to me how a word for a reed became the word for a tree - unless both were used to build boats (compare the ark of Noah to the ark of baby Moses.) But I guess that's the nature of telephone - the further you go along, the harder it is to figure out what the original message was...