Thursday, May 31, 2007


In our previous post, we discussed the word sudar, and how it was formed from the Greek sudarium, which became סודרין in Hebrew. This word, however, was assumed to be plural due to the ending ין- and so the singular form סודר was created.

Almagor-Ramon gives us another example of this phenomenon: the word kalmar קלמר - "pen case". It originally appeared as קלמרין kalmarin - with the same meaning of "pen case" or "inkstand", as in Mishna Mikvaot 10:1. From here we get another mistaken back formation of a singular - kalmar.

She then writes that קלמרין comes from the Greek kalamarion. Klein points out that kalamarion derives from the Greek kalamos which meant "pen" and earlier meant "reed". This is the source of another Talmudic word - kulmos קולמוס - "(reed) pen". This word is part of the familiar expression כמה קולמוסין נשברו - "how many pens were broken", i.e. "how much was written (about) ...". The Arabic word for pen, qalam, has the same origin.

From Greek, the words kalamos and kalamarion entered Latin, where they ended up in a number of English words:
  • calamari - "squid prepared as food". From Take Our Word For It:
    Interestingly, "squid" is calamar in Spanish and similar in other Romance languages (calmar in French), and it is Kalamar in German. The source of these words is late Latin calamarium "ink horn" or "pen case", referring to the squid's ink, from calamus "pen".
  • shawm - "a medieval oboe like instrument". From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
    c.1350, schalmeis (pl.), also schallemele (1390), from O.Fr. chalemie, chalemel, from L.L. calamellus, lit. "a small reed," dim. of L. calamus "reed," from Gk. kalamos. Mistaken as a plural and trimmed of its "-s" ending from c.1450.
  • calumet - another name for the Native American peace pipe, which was often made from a hollow reed
  • haulm - the stalks or bushy parts of vegetables, grains, grasses, and flowering plants. From Word of the Day:
    Today's is an original Germanic word, e.g. Dutch and German halm "stem," Danish halm "straw." It is akin to "culm" from Latin culmus "stalk," which is now used more to refer to the refuse of coal production, such as the lovely culm banks of central Pennsylvania. The original stem *k'olêm- also underlies Greek kalamos "reed," Serbian slama "straw" and Russian soloma "straw."
Now normally I wouldn't pay much attention to how a word went from Greek to Latin, but that was before I saw this book- Hebrew at the Crossroads of Cultures: from Outgoing Antiquity to the Middle Ages, by Haiim B. Rosén. Actually, I didn't see the book, but the online sections at Google Books. Rosen explains how the Jewish community exiled to Rome, who spoke Greek, may have been responsible for transferring Greek words to Latin:

As we have said before, the Jewish inhabitants of Rome were the only component of the "lower" classes which had Greek as its mother tongue, and it must be taken into account that the importance of precisely that component for the development of urban and extra-urban Latin might have been increased by the fact that Jews on the one hand were an urban element, and on the other were no slaves; precisely due to that position they could have contributed as Greek-speaking elements to the diffusion of parts of the Greek vocabulary in the Latin popular language ('Vulgar Latin')

He includes calamarium as an example of this:

The "semantic shift" of [Greek] kalamarion from 'pen case' to 'ink well' for which H. and R. Kahane bring evidence for Greek from Hieronymus, but ascribe it to Latin not earlier than the 8th century, is demonstrable from relatively early Rabbinical sources; interestingly enough, the earlier sources know this word only as a designation for the ink well. It is of course only in the latter meaning that this word could develop to denote, in modern Greek and other Mediterranean languages the cuttlefish (kalamari), by equating it to some kind of container of coloured fluid.
So while Hebrew can thank Greek for the kalmar, perhaps the world should thank the Jews for calamari. Now if I could only find some good, kosher mock-calamari...

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