Wednesday, November 10, 2010

kipod and dorban

Last week, when leaving work in Jerusalem, a friend and I spotted an animal that looked like this (I wish we had a chance to take a picture of it):

He asked me what it was, and I said it was a kipod קיפוד, thinking that was the Hebrew word for "porcupine", but when I got home and looked it up, I discovered the correct word was dorban דרבן. Kipod means "hedgehog", which look like this (I've seen them in the Jerusalem area as well):

Klein writes that kipod derives from the root קפד and "literally means that which rolls itself together". The root קפד developed from "be drawn together" to "be angry" and "be strict", and from here we have the common verb הקפיד hikpid - "was strict, was pedantic".

The porcupine and hedgehog are clearly different animals - both in size, shape and biological classification. How much of a mistake did I make by mixing up the names?

According to a fascinating article by Prof. David Talshir (Leshonenu 70), I wasn't the first to think a porcupine was a kipod.

Talshir explains how the word kipod appears in the Tanach in a few instances: Yeshayahu 14:23, 34:11 and Tzefanya 2:14. The kipoz קפוז of Yeshayahu 34:15 is likely the same animal, with the zayin replacing the dalet (Talshir rejects the JPS translation which distinguishes the kipoz as "arrow-snake", who he points out doesn't live in the Middle East). However, based on the context of these verses, the kipod/kipoz is most likely referring to a bird of prey. Despite this, the various ancient translations and Targumim translate kipod as "hedgehog". Rashi does the same in his biblical commentary (in most cases), as well in his Talmudic commentary, where he identifies the kupad קופד as a hedgehog as well (e.g. Shabbat 54b). Rashi also writes, in his commentary to Vayikra 11:30 (based on Onkelos there, and see also his commentary to Bava Batra 4a) that the animal listed as anaka אנקה also referred to a hedgehog. (Most scholars today say it was likely a gecko lizard.)

However, since no separate identification is given to the porcupine, it is likely that in some of the cases in the Talmud, the kipod / kupad referred to porcupines instead of hedgehogs (for example Kilayim 8:5, and the commentary Malechet Shlomo). Many languages in the area used the same word for both. Rashi's almost absolute identification of the kipod with the hedgehog (excluding the two mentions in Yeshayahu 34, where he understandably identifies it with a bird) must be viewed in light of the fact that there were no porcupines in Europe in his time - only hedgehogs (this is my observation, not Talshir's).

From Rashi's time until the beginning of Modern Hebrew, there were a number of attempts to give different names in Hebrew to both the hedgehog and porcupine. When in 1862, Mendele Mocher Sforim concurred with Rashi, and called the hedgehog a kipod (over the alternative anaka), the name stuck permanently.

However, the final name for porcupine, dorban, was only coined in 1915 by the zoologist Yisrael Aharoni. While a common translation for porcupine in Arabic is kunfud (likely related to kipod), Aharoni chose a different Arabic word for porcupine to come up with his Hebrew version: derban. I was surprised to learn that the Arabic word is not actually cognate to the Hebrew דרבן dorban - meaning "spur" or "goad". However, Aharoni certainly was influenced by the spur-like quills on the porcupine when choosing that name.

The Hebrew dorban (goad) has an Arabic cognate in the root drb meaning "to train", and as Klein points out we have a similar development within Hebrew where malmad מלמד - "goad" derives from למד - "to teach, learn". The Arabic word for porcupine, however, is related to ḍarb, meaning "a beating" (which is the origin of the English word "drub" - "to beat with a stick".) According to Stahl, it can express painful actions like shooting and stinging, so I suppose that is how it became associated with porcupines. Personally, I would imagine that "beating" and "goading" are very similar, and so the two Arabic roots might be connected. But Talshir and the Academy point out that the letter Arabic letter ḍ is cognate with the Hebrew tzade, not dalet, so I'll accept their authority.

Talshir argues for a distinction between darban (porcupine) and dorban (goad). However, in a decision shortly after Talshir's article, the Academy of the Hebrew Language decided, based on popular usage, that דרבן dorban (with a kamatz katan) is the official word for porcupine.

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