Thursday, March 02, 2006


A friend recommended that another Purim related topic would be the word masecha מסכה - mask. He pointed out that it is related to the word masechet מסכת - tractate (of the Talmud.)

(Don't you love English words that are only used for Hebrew concepts? Tractate means treatise, and they both come from the Latin tractare, meaning "manage, handle, deal with" and originally meant "drag about" and therefore is also the source of the English words tractor, trace, train, retreat and extract.)

According to Klein, masecha and masechet are related - both come from the root נסך - to weave. Masechet originally meant a "web of the loom". Klein points out that in English there is a similar development from the Latin texere (to weave, and the root of the word textile) and textus (meaning structure, and the root of the word text.) He claims that נסך is related to the root סכך - the source of the words sukkah and musach מוסך - garage.

Interestingly, Klein writes that there is another meaning to the root נסך - to pour out, and it is not related to the root meaning to weave. This is the root of the words ניסוך nisuch - libations, נסיך nasich - prince, and מסכה - masecha, but this time meaning "molten images" - as in the prohibition of "elokei masecha" or the עגל מסכה egel masecha- molten calf.

What about the word mask? It sounds similar to masecha. Well, it doesn't come from the same Hebrew root (although Klein claims that while masecha originally meant "covering", the modern meaning of mask was influenced by that English word.) What is the origin of the word mask? Most sources say it (and the word mascara) comes from the Arabic maskhara meaning "clown or buffoon", from sakhira "to ridicule." With clowns wearing masks or make-up, this is a logical development. From what I've managed to find on the web, sakhira also means "to falsify" - so I'm going to guess that it's related to the Hebrew root שקר sheker - to lie.

There is another theory as to the root of the word mask - in the root סקר - to paint red. I was able to find the first page of this article, but only the first page, so I can't fill you in on all the details. Does anyone happen to have the entire article?

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