Friday, October 19, 2007


I recently received a great gift (thanks!) - the unabridged Even-Shoshan dictionary, which includes etymologies. Flipping through it, I found something interesting.

I noticed the entry for pargit פרגית - meaning "young / spring chicken", also rendered poussin, pullet or Cornish game hen. (In Israeli restaurants, it means dark meat from the thigh of the chicken - particularly boneless chunks.) It said it likely comes from the Greek pterix (pterygos) meaning wing. When I saw that, the first word that came into my head was "pterodactyl", the extinct flying reptile. An interesting association, as long as it's etymological, not culinary!

My instinct about the etymology of pterodactyl turned out to be right:

from Fr. ptérodactyle (1821), from the Mod.L. genus name, from Gk. pteron "wing" (from PIE base *pet- "fly;") + daktylos "finger"
There are a number of other words containing derivatives of pteron, including helicopter:

From Gk. helix (gen. helikos) "spiral" + pteron "wing"
The word pargit appears in Berachot 39a, where Rashi translates it as perdriz - the Old French word for partridge, and in fact, the source for the English word partridge as well.

It also is found in Tosefta Bava Metzia 6:5, parallel to the word efroach אפרוח meaning "chick". I haven't been able to find any difference between the two terms - perhaps it's an issue of age.

Jastrow tries to connect the two words, by saying that pargit derives from the verb פרג, meaning "to break through, sprout". The root פרח has the same meaning, from where he derives efroach. I assume here that Jastrow would include פרג and פרח together with a number of other roots beginning with פר that mean "to separate" or "to break out", such as פרץ, פרד, פרה, פרס and פרש.

However, first of all, it is not agreed by all that the somewhat obscure root פרג means "to sprout". Klein, for example, offers "worsened"; Ben Yehuda has "to be quite changed."

Secondly, as we've seen, Ben-Shoshan gave pargit a Greek etymology. He followed Ben-Yehuda, who disagreed with the majority of the researchers, including Loew, who said pargit had a Semitic origin.

Whether or not pargit and efroach are related, they both share an additional meaning - "a young woman". Pargit has the sense of an innocent, naive young woman.

On the other hand, the slang term frecha, is the Arabic cognate of efroach, also means a young woman, but with a different connotation. Haaretz gives this definition:

Mega-coutured female characterized by stiletto heels and language to match. Protective coloration provided by blinding if precision-executed patterns on nails of fingers and toes.
The slang term generally refers to Sefardic women, perhaps influenced by the North African Jewish name Frecha, which derives from the Arabic word farcha, meaning "joy".

English too has the term "chick" meaning "young woman", and in British slang "bird" as well. I wonder what causes these associations?

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