Sunday, May 29, 2016


Last week we discussed the root דמם, meaning "to be silent". Today we'll take a look at a synonym - the root חרש, which can also mean "to be silent, be mute, be deaf."  This root gives us the words cheresh חרש - "deaf", charisha חרישה - "silence" and even macharish מחריש which means "shout down" or "drown out", but literally means "deafening", so is related to this root. One other possible related word is chorsha חורשה - "thicket, small forest", since based on Shmuel I 23:19 it was a place for hiding, which has an association with silence. But most sources say the ultimate etymology of chorsha is not clear.

Is there any connection between the root חרש as "to be silent" and another root, with the same spelling, meaning "to cut in, engrave, plow"? We actually discussed this back in 2007, quoting Horowitz as saying the too aren't related, and points out that the shin in each root is actually a different letter. The proof of this is that in other Semitic languages (in this case Syriac) we see that the shin in the root meaning "plow" becomes a tav, but not in the root meaning "silent". And indeed, the root חרת in Hebrew also means "to engrave".

As we've mentioned previously, the question of two letter roots in Hebrew is still very much undecided. But whatever the explanation, there are many roots in Hebrew beginning with the letters חר that have a meaning connected to "engrave" or "cut." Let's take a look at some:

  • חרב - cherev חרב means "sword" and Akkadian harbu is a kind of plow. We've seen before that charuv חרוב - "carob" derives from the sword shape of the fruit.
  • חרז - charuz חרוז is a string of beads, which came from the idea of piercing together. Later, charuz came to mean "rhyme", by analogy (influenced by Arabic) with arranging words like pearls or beads, with the rhyming syllables at the end of the verse
  • חרט - a cheret חרט is a graving tool, stylus
  • חרף - charif חריף means "sharp"
  • חרץ - the root means "to cut, cut in" and may be related to the word charutz חרוץ meaning "gold"
  • חרק - this root can mean "to grind or gnash", "to notch, indent" and "to cut, make incisions." This last meaning gave the Hebrew word for insect - cherek חרק, which is a loan translation from the Latin insectum, literally "(animal) cut into"
  • חרר - to make a hole, bore through. This is the root of the word chor חור - "hole."
One word that has a possible connection to this meaning is cheres חרס - "clay, earthenware". The earlier spelling was cheres חרש (with a sin). Klein does say it is related to the Arabic root h-r-sh, "to scratch, to be rough". If this is the case, we can also add to our list of cognates charoset חרוסת - the food eaten on Pesach which is reminiscent of "clay."

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