Thursday, February 01, 2007


The word arsenal derives from Arabic. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1506, "dockyard," from It. arzenale, from Ar. dar as-sina'ah "house of manufacture, workshop," from sina'ah "art, craft, skill," from sana'a "he made." Applied by the Venetians to a large wharf in their city, which was the earliest meaning in Eng. Sense of "public place for making or storing weapons and ammunition" is from 1579.

Now I know that the Arabic dar - "house" is related to the Hebrew dira דירה. But is there a Hebrew cognate to sana'a - "he made"?

It took me a while to find it, but there is. Under the entry for the root צנע , Klein writes:

to be modest, be humble; to restrain; to reserve, preserve [Jewish Palestinian Aramaic צנע (= reserved, kept, guarded), צניע (= modest, discreet, chaste), Syriac צניעא (= shrewd, astute, crafty, cunning, sly). Perhaps related to Arabic sana'a (= he prepared), Ethiopian san'a (=he was strong)]

Kaddari also connects the three meanings - the Hebrew "modest", Syriac "cunning" and Arabic "expert, professional". It would seem that a humble person hides himself, while a cunning person hides his plans. And just as in English craft and crafty are related, so too does the astute person know how to prepare things.

Stahl quotes a theory that the origin of the capital of Yemen, San'a, got its name from the artisans who lived in the city.

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