Monday, June 15, 2020


I've written about many of the words for directions in Hebrew, but I realized I never wrote about darom דרום - "south."

Darom appears in the bible 17 times. That's less than its synonyms negev / negba נגב / נגבה, which appear around 50 times and תימן teiman (24 times), but more than ימין yamin, which although appears 139 times, but only 8 of those mean "south" (the rest mean "right").

We discussed yamin / teiman here, and the origin of negev is fairly straightforward. Klein writes that it comes from the root נגב meaning "to be dry", so it literally means "the dry land" (which makes sense looking at the Negev desert in the south of Israel. But regarding darom, Klein says that it is "of uncertain origin." Are there any theories we can discuss?

The one serious suggestion I found for the origin of darom is by Gesenius. He suggests that it comes from a root, דרר, "unused as a verb." This root, as explained in the BDB, means "to stream, flow abundantly." This meaning is found also in the Arabic cognate darra - "it ran swiftly." This gives us the word dror דרור, which has three meanings: "sparrow" (since the bird flies quickly), flowing (found in the phrase מר-דרור - "fine flowing myrrh"), and "freedom, liberty" (which the BDB says is like "free run.")

Another related word is דהר dahar - "to gallop". It originally referred specifically to horses, but is also now used metaphorically to describe anyone hurrying or going fast.

And as I mentioned, it also is suggested as the origin of darom. From "flow" it also is said to have the meaning "to give light, shine", presumably from the way light flows. Dar דר  (Esther 1:6) means "pearl" - a shiny stone. So too darom, according to Gesenius, means "the bright region", which makes sense, since in the Northern Hemisphere the southern exposure gets more sunlight, due to the tilt of the earth's axis

This also fits our explanation of tzafon צפון - "north" as the "hidden or dark region."

The English word "south" has a similar etymology:

Old English suð "southward, to the south, southern, in the south," from Proto-Germanic *sunthaz, perhaps literally "sun-side" (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian suth "southward, in the south," Middle Dutch suut, Dutch zuid, German Süden), and related to base of *sunnon "sun" (from PIE root *sawel- "the sun").
I would not be surprised if this was the case in other languages as well, but probably only those in the Northern Hemisphere.

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