Friday, November 16, 2007


Almost back to regular posting, but I came across something that I had to ask the readers here about.

There is a type of long grain rice called "basmati". All the etymologies I have seen say that basmati in Hindi means "fragrant". I immediately had an association with the Hebrew words bosem בוסם - "perfume", and besamim בשמים - "spices". (I wrote about those two words previously here.)

Now I know that the Hindi language was influenced by Muslim rule in India, and many Arabic and Persian words entered the language. However, I cannot find any source that says that basmati was one of those words. It does seem like more than just a coincidence.

Can anyone prove - or disprove - my conjecture?

Sunday, November 04, 2007


As I wrote earlier, I've been spending my blogging time on trying to index my various sources, to make it easier to find places where a particular word or root is being discussed. It's taking a little longer than I thought, but I'm already seeing benefits. I've found a number of interesting words, and already have a new series lined up for when I get back to writing "full time".

However, despite my late night efforts at note taking, all is not "not fun and games". I have been playing Scrabulous, a form of online Scrabble, on Facebook (anyone interested in finding me can click here.)

Well, English Scrabble is fun and all, but this week my wife picked up the Hebrew version of the board game Scrabble. (Check out her blog post to see an amusing typo...)

I played the first time this morning with two of my kids. Before I started, I figured it would be very easy - it seemed like you can do more with Hebrew letters than English ones. But it was actually pretty challenging. First of all, there are a number of caveats about word forming:

  • The letters ב, כ, ל , מ can not be used as prefixes, unless the word as such appears in the dictionary (e.g. בהחלט, מפני)
  • The letter ה can not be used as a definitive article in the beginning of a word
  • You can't add an object at the end of a word (e.g. יאכלוהו - "they will eat it")
  • You can't use a word that is part of a pair of words, when it doesn't have any meaning alone (e.g. שמיכת, which is part of שמיכת חורף)
And while they don't mention it in the rules, I'm guessing you can't add the letter vav to the beginning of a word.

Also interesting was the point value for each letter (as marked inside each tile):

I wouldn't have guessed that kaf or bet would have such high values.

It was a fun game, and I got to teach the kids some new words. One of them I will share with you now. I put down the following word:

מ ר צ ד ת

When they asked what it meant, I hearkened back to my days in tech support at a government ministry, when people would call to complain about a מסך מרצד masach meratzed. They were talking about the computer monitor flickering (which could be usually resolved by adjusting the refresh rate.)

However, the dictionaries I consulted did not have that definition, but rather said that the root רצד meant "to dance". This is the popular translation of the word in Tehilim 68:17, but some also offer "ambush".

And this is what Klein writes for his entry on רצד:

Some lexicographers see in it a secondary form of רקד [dance], others connect it with Jewish Palestinian Aramaic רצד, Arabic rasada (=he watched with hostility).
In any case, I have no time left for dancing, or even for Scrabble. Back to the indexing...