Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Today is 7 Adar - the day that Moshe Rabeinu died. We don't know the location of his grave, and in that spirit, my story today will include a number of items whose precise location is hidden...

After discussing teruma last week, Parshat Tetzaveh includes the concept tenufa תנופה. (Shmot 29:24,26,27). The meaning of tenufa is debated - some say it means "raised up" (similar to teruma, and the Aramaic translation uses the same root), others say "waved".

The root נוף (or נפנף) as "wave" leads to the word for banner, according to Klein "that which is moved to and fro". Horowitz points out an interesting development here. In both English and Hebrew, when "N" is the second letter of a syllable, it is difficult to pronounce and often dropped. Therefore in English we say "illegal" and not "inlegal", "irreligious" and not "inreligious". In Hebrew the letter nun is known as a "weak letter", and falls out of many words - nofel נופל in the future becomes e'pol אפול. Horowitz gives a long list of words where the nun falls out (How the Hebrew Language Grew, pgs 32-38). One of the examples he gives is the word for banner. If the root is נוף, the noun should be manpa מנפה. But the nun fell away (our first hidden item), and we're left with the word מפה - mapa. Mapa can mean banner, and also map and tablecloth.

Horowitz points out that "because maps were painted on cloth, mappa in Latin came to mean map. In French the word became nappa, that gave rise to our word napkin." In English the word became napron, and one was called "a napron". But the N fell out again, and instead of calling it "a napron", we began to call it "an apron". (There are a number of cases like this: "an ewt" became "a newt", "an ickname" became "a nickname".)

The third hidden item isn't etymological, but just a funny story. I started researching this entry after coming home late last night from work. I tried looking for the root נוף in my Hebrew Concordance and couldn't find it. Over and over again I looked, and thought my failure was due to my exhaustion. Turned out that my book was missing the exact page of that root...

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