Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I love puns. They're great fun, and word play often shows a sophisticated grasp of language. The comic strip Pearls Before Swine is a master of puns. Above is a recent one (click on it to enlarge):

Coincidentally, the same day I was reading Kutscher's article on "anemone". It's another word that I didn't know has a Semitic origin. Here is its story:

In Yeshayahu 17:10 we find the following:

כִּי שָׁכַחַתְּ אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׁעֵךְ, וְצוּר מָעֻזֵּךְ לֹא זָכָרְתְּ; עַל-כֵּן, תִּטְּעִי נִטְעֵי נַעֲמָנִים, וּזְמֹרַת זָר, תִּזְרָעֶנּוּ.

"Truly, you have forgotten the God who saves you
And have not remembered the Rock who shelters you;
That is why, though you plant a delightful sapling,
What you sow proves a disappointing slip."

What the JPS translates as a "delightful sapling" in Hebrew is נטעי נעמנים - nitei na'amanim. The identification of namaanim as delightful derives from the Hebrew word noam נעם - pleasant. But what is the connection between the na'amanim plants and the idol worship described in the prophecy?

As described in depth here and here, there were spring and summer Caananite rituals in honor of the god Adon. This worship was common all over the Middle East. In Babylonia, the god was known as Tamuz (see Yechezel 8:14), and from his name we get the name of the summer month. The Greeks, who adopted many things from the Phoenicians (including of course the alphabet), also took on a number of their gods. They took the god Adon and he became Adonis.

Part of the ritual involved the red flowers known in English as anemones. According to Kutscher, the Greek word anemone does not come from the Greek anemos meaning wind, but is actually an adaptation of the Hebrew na'amanim. Support for this theory comes from the fact that the Arabic name for anemone is shaka'ek al-No'man - which in Arabic preserves the root נעמן.

In modern Hebrew the flowers are known as כלניות - kalaniot, meaning "little brides".

For some great photos of a field of kalaniot, go here.

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