Wednesday, February 20, 2008

heichal, adrichal and tarnegol

I recently found a post on a Hebrew blog that connected a few words that I had thought of writing about separately.

The blogger Ilan here writes about heichal היכל, adrichal אדריכל and tarnegol תרנגול. What do these words have in common? They all derive from the ancient language Sumerian and share a common root.

Let's take a look at each of the words.

Heichal appears numerous times in the Bible, where it refers to either a palace or the Temple. Klein gives the following etymology:

Probably a loan word from Akkadian ekallu ( = palace), whence also Phoenician הכל, Biblical Aramaic and Aramaic היכלא, Syriac היכלא, Mandaic היכלא, Ugaritic hkl ( = palace, temple). Arabic haykal ( = church) is probably an Aramaic loan word. Akkadian ekallu is probably a loan word from Sumerian e-gal ( = great house).
Adrichal in Modern Hebrew means "architect", and first appears in the Talmudic literature. However, it also appears there as ardichal ארדיכל, and most sources say that is the original form. The etymology of this form, according to Even-Shoshan is from the Akkadian erad-ekaly. This means "worker of the heichal" - and as we just noted, heichal is originally Sumerian. Ilan points out that originally the adrichal was the builder, not the architect. Erad here is related to the Akkadian word aradu - "to serve" and ardu - "slave". This appears to be cognate with the Hebrew root ירד - "to descend", and relates to the lower, subjugated status of the slave.

And lastly we have tarnegol - "rooster". Klein writes that the word is "borrowed from Akkadian tar lugallu" which is in turn borrowed from "Sumerian tar lugal (=bird of the king)." Lugal meant king in Sumerian, and it was made up of two parts - lu (man) and gal (great, as we saw in heichal).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


In my post about pinkas, I showed an example of an Israeli notepad. If you noticed, the picture said "Kohinor". When I first came to Israel, those notepads were so common, that the name brand became almost generic, like Xerox or Kleenex (the term for this is apparently synecdoche).

I realize now that Kohinor is the product of Machberet Millenium of Holon. But they got the name from the famous Koh-I-Noor diamond of India. I was curious about the origin of the name, so I emailed my friend Mike Gerver, who is lucky to possess Ernest Klein's other dictionary, the CEDEL - Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Mike sent me the following entry:

Pers. koh-i-nur [with a long mark over the o and the u], lit. 'mountain of light', prop. a hybrid coined fr. Pers. koh, 'mountain', which is rel. to Pers. kohe, 'hump', OPers. kaofa-, 'mountain, hump', and fr. Arab. nur, 'light'.
It was clear to me that Arabic nur was related to the Hebrew נר ner - "candle". But I was curious - could the kaofa have a cognate in some Hebrew word. Over time Hebrew has borrowed words from Persian, so who knows?

Well, I didn't find any Persian related words in Hebrew, but Persian is one of the Indo-European languages, so I dug a little further. In Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English by Eric Partridge, he connects the English word "heap" to Sanskrit "kaofa", meaning "mountain (a great heap)". Partridge also says that "heap" is related to "hive", for which he gives the following etymology:

Hive comes, through ME hive, earlier hyve and huive, from OE hyf, akin to ON hufr, a ship's hull, Lith kuopa, a heap, L cupa, a tub or cask, Greek kupe, cavity, kupellon, a beaker, Skt kupas, cavity, pit, hollow, and kupika, a small jug; IE r, prob *keu-, extn *keup-, with basic sense 'a curving or an arching'
He then goes on to mention many words related to this root: coop, hip, cubit, incubate, concubine, succumb, cubicle, cube. The American Heritage Dictionary entry for this root adds church, excavate, cumulus.

There are some very interesting words there, but aside from some cases where Hebrew clearly borrowed from an Indo-European language, there wasn't much to write about.

Now before I go on, let me tell you something else about Mike. Besides our common interest in etymology, we both are very involved in genealogy. The two fields aren't all that different - they both deal with exploring roots, with a hope to get a better understanding of our past, and our present.

Long before I started my blog, Mike wrote an essay called "Distant Cousins", where he discusses "Hebrew and English Words with Common Origins". This is not Edenics (or its predecessor Adamics). Mike shows how some Hebrew words have IE origins (and are therefore related to English), some English words have Semitic origins (and therefore have Hebrew cognates), and some words aren't related at all (even when we might think they are).

The comparison to genealogy is obvious, if only from the title. And just as in genealogy you try to go back as far as possible, so does this essay. One of the theories he discusses there is that of the Nostratic Languages. This is something I haven't discussed on my blog until now, mostly because it doesn't have the level of certainty that I, as an amateur linguist, am comfortable with. The basic idea is that the Semitic languages and Indo-European languages may have a common ancestor for some roots.

One particular case where this seems to be the case may be our root *keu / *keup. Here's the entry in "Distant Cousins":

Cove and גבא
Nostratic root #87, gop‘a “hollow” or “empty,” has cognates in Indo-European geup, “hollow,” or “hole,” and in Afroasiatic gwb or gwp, “hollow,” or “empty.” An Altaic cognate is Mongolian gobi, “desert,” source of the place name Gobi Desert. Hebrew cognates to Afroasiatic gwb and gwp include גבא, “cistern,” גבה, “collect,” גוב, “dig,” גופה, “body,” גויה, “body,” and possibly קוה, “collect,” although that might belong instead with Nostratic root #190, see below. The Hebrew root גבה is the source of גובה, “collector of funds,” hence my family name Gerver (originally Goiva), as well as גבי, “gabbai,” גוב, “swarm of locusts,” and הגב, “locust,” since locusts come in large collections. גוב meaning “dig” is the root of גב, “cistern” or “trench,” as in the place name Ein Gev. גויה is possibly the source of גוי, “nation,” according to Klein, hence, via Yiddish, goy, “non-Jew.” קוה, “collect,” is the root of מקוה, “mikvah,” a collection of water.
Indo-European geup is the source of cove, via Anglo-Saxon, cubby via Dutch, and cobalt (from kobold, “house ruler,” then “household god,” then “underground goblin,” then an undesired metal found in iron ore and believed to have been put there by an underground goblin), via Middle High German. Watkins links this root with other Germanic roots beginning with ku (equivalent to geu in Indo-European), with meanings related to “hollow space or place, surrounding object, round object, or lump,” with numerous English derivatives.
If, as Watkins suggests, the “concave” words from this Indo-European root are related to other words with “convex” meanings, then perhaps the Nostratic root is related to Nostratic root #92, gupA (there are two dots above the u), meaning “bent” or “curved.” Although this root does not have any English derivatives from its Indo-European cognate gheub, “bent,” “curved,” or “crooked,” it has several Hebrew words which derive from its Afroasiatic cognate g(w)b, meaning “bent,” “curved,” or “bulging.” These include גבב, “heap up,” and its derivative גב, “back” (of the body), גבוה, “high,” גבן, “hunchback,” which is the root of גבינה, “cheese,” made by coagulating and contracting milk, גבעה, “hill,” גביע, “cup,” maybe גבול, “boundary,” because a boundary is curved, and maybe גבר, “strong,” if it originally meant “bulging.”
It is also tempting to connect these Nostratic roots with Nostratic root #243, the source of Indo-European keub or keup, meaning “bend,” “curved,” “round,” “arching,” or “hollow,” with many English derivatives, although that Nostratic root has no Afroasiatic cognate listed. The English derivatives listed by Watkins for Indo-European keub include cube, from Greek kybos, although Klein and Partridge both consider kybos to be a probable Semitic loan word.

I've written earlier about the connection between כף and גב - and just as there I see a strong case to connect the roots meaning "bent", I'm inclined to see a connection between the IE and Semitic roots having the same meaning.

About "cube", Mike writes:

Cube and כעבה
English cube comes, via French and Latin, from Greek kybos, which, according to Klein, is a Semitic loan word, cognate to Arabic ka‘aba, “square house,” which refers as a proper noun to the black stone which Muslims visit as part of their pilgrimage to Mecca, and Arabic ka‘ab, “cube.” Hebrew כעבה, referring to the stone in Mecca, is a loan word from Arabic, not a cognate to the Arabic word from proto-Semitic.

Let's return to the genealogy parallel. Often people will tell me "How can you not say that Hebrew word X and English word Y aren't related - they look so similar!" Well, in genealogy, I can't simply say I'm related to someone even if they look exactly like me. I need to go back to the roots, and even there, I need evidence. For example, in my research of my Paglin branch of the family from the town of Skaudville, Lithuania, I've found two families. Both have the same last name, come from the same town, and both are Levites. But even then I can't say they're related. Maybe for some external reason they took the same last name?

Same case here. Let's look at three words that many would guess are related: cave, cove and alcove. They look similar, and have similar meanings:

cave - A hollow or natural passage under or into the earth
cove - A recess or small valley in the side of a mountain.
alcove - A recess or partly enclosed extension connected to or forming part of a room

(the above definitions from

Now let's look at the etymologies:

cave - c.1220, from O.Fr. cave "a cave," from L. cavea "hollow" (place), neut. plural of adj. cavus "hollow," from PIE base *keu- "a swelling, arch, cavity."

cove - O.E. cofa "small chamber, cell," from P.Gmc. *kubon.
As we saw above, Mike traces it back to *geup (as in Websters, quoted here), which may or may not be related to *keu.

alcove - this one actually has a Semitic origin. From "Distant Cousins":

Alcove and קבב
Alcove comes, via French, from Arabic al qubba, “the dome.” Arabic qubba is from the same Semitic root as Hebrew קבב, “to be bent, to be crooked, to hollow out, to vault.”
So they all might be related - but then again maybe not. And if they are - it's not nearly as close as it appears.

Let's give one more example. Another word associated with *keub is "hop":

ME hoppen < OE hoppian, akin to Ger hüpfen < IE *keub- < base *keu-, to bend, curve > hip, L cumbere, to lie: basic sense prob. “to bend forward”
And interestingly, "hop" may be the source of "hope":

O.E. hopian "wish, expect, look forward (to something)," of unknown origin, a general Low Ger. word (cf. O.Fris. hopia, M.L.G., M.Du. hopen; M.H.G. hoffen "to hope" was borrowed from Low Ger. Some suggest a connection with hop (v.) on the notion of "leaping in expectation.")

Take Our Word For It writes that "there has been a suggestion that it is related to hop and that it originally denoted `jumping to safety.' Reaching a place of safety gives one hope, the theory goes on to say."

And if we look above, we see that Mike mentioned that a connected Semitic root may be קוה - as in תקוה tikva - "hope"! Even the most devoted Edenics or Adamics wouldn't think to connect "hope" and "tikva". Which is why the real search for roots - in genealogy or etymology - can often be more rewarding and fascinating than playing a linguistic version of "Separated at Birth".

Except for one thing. Tikva and מקוה mikveh - the word Mike actually referred to above - aren't actually connected. And they're both plain old Biblical Hebrew. Mikveh (or mikva) meaning "a collection of water", derives from the root קוה meaning "to collect (water)." Klein writes that it may be connected to Syrian קבא - "was collected", and the volume unit kav קב, which in turn comes from קבב (= to hollow out). This root would certainly be connected to the sense of "bent" that we've seen so far.

On the other hand, tikva comes from a second, unrelated קוה meaning - "to wait for". It is related to קו kav - meaning "thread, string, line", and Klein says that the original meaning of the verb was "to twist, stretch", and from there to "be stretched, be strained" and finally to "await tensely".

Now of course there are famous midrashim that play on the two homonymous roots. But that doesn't mean they are related. So in etymology, just like genealogy, sometimes we suffer disappointment when we think we've made a connection. But in neither case does it pay to despair - "Hope springs eternal..."

Friday, February 08, 2008


In my previous post I discussed daftar דפתר, which means "notebook" in Modern Hebrew. A more common word is pinkas פנקס. Both words appear in Midrash Bereshit Rabba 1:

והאומן אינו בונה אותה מדעת עצמו אלא דפתראות ופנקסאות יש לו לדעת היאך הוא עושה חדרים

"the master builder does not follow his own opinion, but has difteraot and pinkasaot - plans and descriptions [Jastrow's translation] to know how to arrange the chambers"

While both terms mean notebooks of paper now, they had different meanings in the times of the Talmud. As we noted, a diftera was a leather hide used for writing. A pinkas, on the other hand, was a board or tablet, usually coated in wax, upon which the words were engraved.

The word pinkas derives from the Greek pinax - also meaning "writing tablet".

Kutscher, in this online article, explains the connection between pinkas and פינג'ן finjan - "coffee-pot":

But while these Arabic words – and there are scores of others in this category – took the main road into Hebrew, through the agency of its revivers as a spoken vernacular in Israel, others came in other ways – with Arabic speaking Jews, or during the War of Independence. Keif (“fun,” “a good time”) seems to be an example of the first, findjan (“cup”) of the second. In the days before the State this word, which in Arabic means “coffee-pot,” apparently entered the language through contacts between soldiers serving in the Palmach and Arabs. However, some people insist that findjan, too belongs to the former category. Incidentally, this word has a most interesting history. It derives from the Greek pinax meaning “notebook” and also dish. It passed into Mishnaic Hebrew in the form of pinkas (“notebook”) and into Aramaic as pinkha (“plate”). Southern Iraq, where Aramaic was spoken, mostly under Persian rule, for over a thousand years, from before the time of Alexander the Great until after its conquest by the Arabs in the middle of the seventh century CE. Not surprisingly, many Aramaic words were absorbed by Persian. In modern Persia (Iran) an original k in certain circumstances becomes g, hence the forms ping and also pingan. From Persian it passed over, together with other words, into Arabic in which there is no p but only f. in literary Arabic g became dj, and hence the form findjan, which, by this circuitous route, came back to Israeli Hebrew. The original Greek pinax, accordingly, has three offsprings in Hebrew – pinkas, pinkha (which is rare), and findjan reflecting vicissitudes in the Near East over the past two thousand years. We may add that thanks to the Turks, who borrowed innumerable words from Arabic before they embarked upon their campaigns of conquest into Europe, the word is common in European, and especially Slavonic, languages. I knew it as a child in Hungary, the country of my birth. I did not dream that it existed in ancient Jewish literature, or that I should find it , in a different guise, when I settled in Israel.
In his book Milim V'Toldoteihen, Kutscher writes that the Hungarian word was findzsa.

So while you might never have thought there was a connection between a pinax:

and a finjan:

and a pinkas:

now you know there is!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


In my last post I wrote about the Hebrew word daf דף - meaning "page". A manufacturer of school notebooks in Israel is called daftar דפתר - could there be a connection?

There doesn't seem to be. While in Modern Hebrew daftar (or diftar) means notebook, this is a borrowing from Arabic, where it also means now "book of accounts" (see here how that sense entered Hindi.) Arabic in turn borrowed the word from the Greek dipthera, meaning "leather, hide" - particularly for writing.

Talmudic Hebrew also borrowed from the Greek, and we find there the word diftera דפתרא - with the same meaning as the Greek. For example in Megillah 19a, we find: דיפתרא דמליח וקמיח ולא עפיץ "diftera is a skin prepared with salt and flour, but not with gallnut".

From the same Greek word we get the disease diptheria, as the Online Etymology Dictionary explains:

coined 1857 in Fr. by physician Pierre Bretonneau from Gk. diphthera "hide, leather," of unknown origin; the disease so called for the tough membrane that forms in the throat.
An unexpected derivative of dipthera is the English word "letter". Also from the OED:

c.1150, "graphic symbol, written character," from O.Fr. lettre, from L. littera (also litera) "letter of the alphabet," of uncertain origin, perhaps from Gk. diphthera "tablet," with change of d- to l- as in lachrymose
This strange jump from Greek to Latin seems to have been aided by the mysterious Etruscans. This site explains:

Four words dealing with writing came into Latin by way of the Etruscan language, confirming the Etruscan transmission of the Greek alphabet to the Romans: elementum, whose earlier meaning was 'letter of the alphabet', litterae, 'writing' (originally derived from Greek diphthera, 'skin', a material on which people wrote); stylus, 'writing implement', and cera, 'wax' (for wax tablets on which to take notes).
I started by saying that the word was probably not related to daf. Klein says that the etymology is unknown, but is "possibly related to Greek dephein, despein ( = to soften)." and Partridge's Etymological Dictionary agree.

On the other hand, Steinsaltz writes that the word may have been borrowed earlier from the Persain dipir, "scribe", which has the same Sumerian origin as daf.

Monday, February 04, 2008

dahween and divan

My wife and I were listening to the song Yachad by Gaya, which contains the line:

ורק אם נאמין / ובלי שום דאווין

This site offers the following transliteration and translation:

Verak im na'amin,
uvli shum da'awin

If we only believe,
no mucking around
I think a better translation for the second half would be "with no showing off". I knew dahween meant "showing off" or "fuss", but I never knew why. Our best guess? Maybe it was a mispronunciation of (Charles) Darwin - was he a show-off? Or are those animals who choose to evolve considered pretentious?

But no. Dahween is actually a back-formation, in the singular,from the Arabic dawaween, which is really the plural of diwan. According to Rosenthal, the word diwan means "a fanciful story" (from here our slang term), but also a "book of poems" (such as the Diwan of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi) and a "salon". That's quite a collection of definitions - what's the connection?

Well, if you haven't noticed yet, the word "divan" in English can also mean:
1. A long backless sofa, especially one set with pillows against a wall.
2. A counting room, tribunal, or public audience room in Muslim countries.
3. The seat used by an administrator when holding audience.
4. A government bureau or council chamber.
5. A coffeehouse or smoking room.
6. A book of poems, especially one written in Arabic or Persian by a single author.

(Languagehat has a cute story here about a confused effort to translate divan in Tbilisi, Georgia.)

The Online Etymology Dictionary tries to explain the development:

1586, "Oriental council of state," from Turk. divan, from Arabic diwan, from Pers. devan "bundle of written sheets, small book, collection of poems" (as in the "Divan i-Hafiz"), related to debir "writer." Sense evolved through "book of accounts," to "office of accounts," "custom house," "council chamber," then to "long, cushioned seat," such as are found along the walls in Middle Eastern council chambers. (See couch.) The sofa/couch sense was taken into Eng. 1702; the "book of poems" sense in 1823.
The American Heritage Dictionary goes back a little further:

French, from Turkish, from Persian divan, place of assembly, roster, probably from Old Iranian *dipivahanam, document house : Old Persian dipi-, writing, document (from Akkadian tuppu, tablet, letter, from Sumerian dub) + Old Persian vahanam, house
This would connect it to the Hebrew word daf דף - now meaning "page". Klein gives the following definition and etymology for daf:

1. (Post-Biblical Hebrew) board, plank. 2. (Post-Biblical Hebrew) column (in a scroll). 3. (New Hebrew) leaf, page. [Together with JAram-Syr. דפא (=board, plank), Arabic daff (=side), borrowed from Akkadian (a)dappu, duppu, wich is a loan word from Sumerian dub. Arabic daffah (=cover of a book), is possibly derived from Aramaic.]
He also writes that the Hebrew word dofen דופן - "wall, side" may be connected, as well as the Biblical word tafsar טפסר - "scribe":

A loan word from Akkadian dupsharru, from Sumerian dub-sar, literally meaning "tablet-writer", from dub (=table, tablet) and sar (=to write).
Returning to more recent times, the dish "Chicken Divan" is related as well. This site gives the history:

Chicken Divan was the signature dish of a 1950s New York restaurant, the Divan Parisienne. It is the word "divan" itself that is of interest. In English, divan came to mean sofa, from the council chamber's benches, while in France it meant a meeting place or great hall. It was this meaning that attracted the notice of the owners of the New York restaurant as they searched for a name that would simply continental elegance.

But we can continue past the 1950s, into something even more recent. The linguist Yoram Meltzer writes here that Arabic bloggers have started adopting the word maduna for blog, and maduni for blogger. Both of those words derive from the divan meaning "record of accounts". Certainly an appropriate word for a blog, and there is no shortage of dahween in most blogs as well...