Monday, February 27, 2006


In a couple of weeks we will be reading from Megilat Esther. Where does the word megila - מגילה - (scroll) originate?

The origin is from the Hebrew root גלל - GLL - to roll. Other words from this same root include gal גל - wave, galgal גלגל - wheel, and גליל galil - district. What we call the Galil (the Galilee), a large area in the northern part of Israel, was originally called "Galil HaGoyim" (Isiah 8:23) - the district of nations, apparently because many tribes and small nations lived there.

Klein points out that English has a similar development: The Latin word volumen (meaning a roll, a book, and the source of our "volume") derives from volvere (meaning "to roll" and the source of our "revolve".) Volume meaning bulk derives from the "bulk or size of a book."

The concept that a book or scroll is noted for its size is the source of an expression in English - "the whole megillah." Originating with the Yiddish phrase gantse megillah, it meant a large complicated story. It still has that meaning in modern Hebrew (although Rosenthal claims that the slang term derives from Ladino, not Yiddish). In English it has now come also to mean "the whole nine yards", or even just excitement in general.

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