Friday, May 25, 2007


I live in a community that has an active local email list, and people are often looking for rides from one place to another. It always looks to me as very strange when someone writes: "I'm going to Jerusalem and I need a tramp". Of course they mean that they're looking for a ride, but to my (American) ears it sounds like they're looking for a vagrant, or even a promiscuous woman.

But "tramp" means hitchhiking or a hitchhiker in British and German slang, and so it's not surprising it made it into Hebrew. The Online Etymology Dictionary provides the following etymology:

1388, "walk heavily, stamp," from M.L.G. trampen "to stamp," from P.Gmc. *tramp- (cf. Dan. trampe, Swed. trampa "to tramp, stamp," Goth. ana-trimpan "to press upon"), probably from a variant of the P.Gmc. source of trap. The noun meaning "person who wanders about, vagabond" is first recorded 1664, from the verb. Sense of "steamship which takes cargo wherever it can be traded" (as opposed to one running a regular line) is attested from c.1880. The meaning "promiscuous woman" is from 1922.
"Trampoline" is also related:

1798, from Sp. trampolin "springboard," and It. trampolino, from trampoli "stilts," from a Gmc. source (cf. Low Ger. trampeln "trample") related to tramp.
As I mentioned, Hebrew adopted the word (and created trempist - "hitchhiker" and trempiada - "hitchhiking station"), but the pronunciation is generally tremp (which avoids the confusion I mentioned above.)

Why did Hebrew move from "tramp" to "tremp"? It turns out it's part of a wider trend.

Yehuda N. Falk wrote on The LINGUIST Discussion List here:

"I did want to point out that there is a third possible treatment of [ae]: it can become a mid vowel [e] (or epsilon). This is what happens in Hebrew.






tremp (means "a ride, a lift")


a brand of catfood called "ketli"


hendawt (heard at linguistics conferences)





So while in an English language email list in Israel it should be OK to write "tramp" when you mean "ride", it shouldn't be pronounced that way in conversational Hebrew...

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