Monday, June 05, 2006


As school lets out in Israel, we begin to see the kids planning on going to קייטנה kaytana. It is usually translated as "camp", but what is the origin of the word?

It derives from the Aramaic word for summer - קיט kayit. Kayit is closely related to the Hebrew קיץ kayitz. The letter tzade occasionally becomes a tet - see the roots טלל/ צלל, נצר/נטר. Therefore, the popular kaytanat chanuka is a bit of a contradiction in terms (except in the Southern Hemisphere).

What is the origin of kayitz? This is not fully clear to me, but there are a number of words - seemingly related - with the root קיץ/ קוץ (or קיט/ קוט):

  • קץ ketz - end
  • קוץ (and קוט) - to loathe (Klein says in the Shaph'el form it becomes שקץ sheketz, detested, and the root of the Yiddish shiksa and sheygetz)
  • קוץ kotz - thorn
  • הקיץ - to wake
  • קיץ - summer, also summer fruit (perhaps specifically figs)
  • קצצ, קצה - to cut off
  • קט kat - small
Now I have not found one theory that connects all the terms. But most etymological sources will connect a few to each other. For example, Amos Chacham in Daat Mikra on Yeshayahu 7:6 says that that kayitz is the season when the figs are cut down (קצץ). Arel Segal here says that קוץ (to loathe) means to get to the end - ketz - of your ability to suffer. Steinberg claims that kayitz gets its name from the uncomfortable, loathful heat. And while I haven't seen it explicitly, a kotz (thorn) certainly is loathful, and waking up (הקיץ) is the end (קץ) of sleep.
So there does seem to be a common sense of many of the words - to cut or to end. (And before you ask - I have not found a connection between קט and the English word "cut".)
In the comments a few posts ago, Lonnie asked about roots that begin the same two letters and have similar meanings. I wrote that there is not conclusive evidence one way or another. Horowitz writes (page 299):
It is hardly possible that the Hebrew language began with this enormously regular tri-consonantal system, that all Hebrew words were born with three bright and shining letters. Scholars are fairly convinced that back of these three lettered roots lie old primitive two-lettered syllables. These two-lettered syllables represent some simple primitive action or thing. It does seem quite clear that there existed a bi-literal or two-letter base for many, if not most, of our three lettered roots. However, this can never be proven absolutely in all finality because the original Semitic language is lost beyond all recovery.
In that chapter, Horowitz goes on to list some of those primitive two letter roots and the words that derive from them. Interestingly, he gives examples of our קץ / קט meaning "cut" as well:
  • קצץ - cut, from it we have קץ end.
  • קצה - cut, from it we have קצין, captain, judge. The word cut is figuratively used for deciding.
  • הקצה - scrape off; מקצה (muktzeh) - set apart - forbidden for handling on Sabbath
  • קצב - butcher; תקציב is a budget
  • קצע - cut into; מקצוע - a profession - is what one is cut out for. מקצועה is a carpenter's plane
  • קצר - harvest - from it קצר short; i.e. cut off.
  • קטע - cut, from it קיטע person with limb missing
  • קטף - pluck off or pluck out - from it we have קטיף orange harvest
  • קטן - short, small, really means cut off
  • קטל - kill, i.e. cut down
To Horowitz's list, we can add:
  • קטב - destruction, from "to cut off"
  • קטם - to cut off

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