Monday, February 27, 2006


The rabbis discussed how Purim and Yom Kippur are similar - they even use the play on words that Yom Kippur is Yom HaKippurim - כ-פורים - like Purim. While the lots are the most obvious connection, from reading the mishnayot of Yoma, I've seen another. Both Yoma and Esther mention the fabrics of the priestly garments. One that particularly caught my eye was the term for fine linen, בוץ -butz. How could such special fabric share the same name as the Hebrew word for mud - בוץ - botz?

Lets look at the word butz (linen). It originates from a Semitic root meaning white, and that also led to the word for egg - beitza ביצה. When Eliezer ben Yehuda was looking for a word for the metal zinc, he chose אבץ - avatz. He based it on the Aramaic word אבצא, which referred to tin. However since there already was a Hebrew word for tin (בדיל - b'dil), Ben Yehuda utilized the meaning of "white metal" to associate zinc with avatz.
Interestingly, an English word for linen, byssus, made its way from the Hebrew word butz.

On the other hand, Klein explains that the word botz, meaning mud or silt, derives from בצץ - to exude, and is related to the Akkadian word for sand, basu. The Hebrew word for swamp, בצה - bitza, is related to botz as well.

What about בצבץ - bitzbetz - to exude? Here we have a machloket (disagreement) between two major scholars. On the one hand, Klein in his Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, claims that bitzbetz is related to bitza, swamp, in the way that mud oozes out of a swamp. However, today I picked up a wonderful new book, Motza HaMilim, by Avraham Stahl. Stahl writes that bitzbetz means to shine, and derives from the "white" of linen and eggs.

Who was right? Far be it from me to decide. But maybe one of the readers has some additional information?

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