Thursday, March 09, 2006


As we've discussed before, while in some ways both modern English and modern Hebrew are very new languages, they both draw their roots from much more ancient sources. English is a child of the Indo-European language family that produced Persian, Greek, Latin and German. And of course Hebrew is related to the other Semitic languages.

It does not appear to most linguists that Indo-European and Semitic have a common ancestor. But many words are borrowed from one family to the other. Much of this may have been through trade between nations - that is how the Semitic alphabet passed on to the Greeks. Another interesting way that some Hebrew words entered Greek (and later made their way to English) was by the translation of the Bible into Greek. When the translators could not find an equivalent Greek word, they would transliterate from the Hebrew.

In Hebrew, the word שכר shekhar - refers to an alcoholic beverage that is not wine. (It is often paired with wine, as in Numbers 6:3.) The Akkadian cognate sikru referred to beer, but it later came to mean liquor also formed from corn, apples, honey or any other fruit. This same root led to the words for intoxication - שיכור, השתכר. (Any connection between this post and Purim is purely circumstantial.)

When the Greeks came to translate shekhar, they created the word sicera (or sikera?). The same word was used in Latin, and in Old French was called cisdre. Over time the "s" was dropped, and the word was spelled cidre in French, and "cider" in English. By this time the word cider only referred to an alcoholic beverage made from apples, but gradually it began to include non-alcoholic drink as well. (For the difference between cider and apple juice, read Cecil Adams' column.) Hebrew readopted this word - and you can find סיידר in all supermarkets here, and even visit the factory of "Cider HaGalil" in Kiryat Shmona:

No comments: