Friday, April 21, 2006


In my post about Hebrew words with the root ספר, I forgot one of the most important ones for anyone interested in linguistics - the gem ספיר - sapir. According to Klein, the Hebrew word sapir is cognate to the Sanskrit sani-prijam, meaning "dear to Saturn". The word prijam derives from the Indo-European root pri, meaning "to love", and is also the source of such English words as free, friend and Friday.

The Greeks took this Semitic root and returned it to the Indo-European family, by changing sapir into their sappheiros, which became the Latin sapphirus, and finally the English sapphire. This is still the basic translation for sapir, although it is also translated as Lapis Lazuli. It is also the origin of the surname of language columnist William Safire.

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