Wednesday, June 21, 2006


In 1986, when developer David Azrieli built Israel's first mall, he also coined the catchy name: קניון - kanyon (or kanion or canion.) It is a combination of kniya קניה (shopping) and chanyon חניון (parking place) - both two major draws for a mall. I'm sure it also had the allure of a foreign word, sounding like the English word "canyon". (In fact, today one of Israel's largest malls is the Grand Kanyon in Haifa). I wonder, however, if he realized the Semitic roots of "canyon" when he came up with the term.

The English word canyon was borrowed from the Spanish cañon, which meant "a pipe, tube, gorge". The Spanish word derived from the Latin canna, and earlier the Greek kanna, meaning "reed". Many English words derive from either the Greek or Latin, including canister, cannon, canon, caramel, can, canal, cane, channel, canasta and canneloni.

The Greek kanna derived from the Semitic word (maybe Hebrew?) for reed - קנה kaneh. According to Klein, kaneh has many meanings: stalk, reed, cane, beam of scales, shaft of lampstand, arm of lampstand, length of a reed, and in later Hebrew - windpipe.

One of the interesting meanings is "beam of scales". In Yechezkel 40:3 we read of וּקְנֵה הַמִּדָּה - a "measuring rod" -- knei mida has the meaning in modern Hebrew of "criterion" or "scale". In the continuation of the chapter we see Yechezkel use kaneh as a measurement for building.

Kaneh was used for another type of measurement in Yeshayahu 46:6 - וְכֶסֶף בַּקָּנֶה יִשְׁקֹלוּ -- "and weigh out silver on the beam [of the balance]". From here Klein writes that some scholars say that the meaning of קנה - "to buy" comes from kaneh as well. He points out that there is a similar sense development in Aramaic, where זבן - "he bought" is probably borrowed from the Akkadian zibanitu - "balance, pair of scales". Yeshayahu makes a play on words using the double (and perhaps connected meanings) in 43:24 - לֹא-קָנִיתָ לִּי בַכֶּסֶף קָנֶה -- "You have not bought me fragrant reed with money".

So we can see that David Azrieli certainly had historical basis to make a play on words with canyon and kanah...

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