Sunday, May 06, 2007


Yesterday was Lag B'Omer, and of course we had a bonfire. Let's look at some of the foods eaten at a bonfire. We've already talked about naknik, so let's talk about another word - shipud שיפוד - "skewer". We find the word in the Talmud as שפוד shapud (or shefod or shefud) with basically the same meaning - "spit for roasting meat". A derivative is the verb שפד - "to put on a spit".

Everyone seems to agree that the word derives from the Greek spodos (no one suggests a connection to "spit" in English - it has a different etymology.) . Klein writes that the word is "borrowed from the Greek spodos (spit for roasting meat.)". Steinsaltz (Avoda Zara 75b) gives the same definition of the Greek word.

However, all the sources I've found online discussing the Greek word give it a different meaning: "ashes". For example, here is the etymology of the mineral spodumene:

French spodumène, from German Spodumen, from Greek spodoumenos, present participle of spodousthai, to be burned to ashes, from spodos, wood ashes (because the mineral becomes ash gray when exposed to air).

(Here are some more words deriving from spodos - always meaning "ashes.")

So what's happening here? Ben-Yehuda does mention a theory that perhaps the word came from some language other than Greek, for Greek does not have the "sh" sound, and had it been from Greek it should have been spelled ספוד. But he does start by saying the word derives from spodos, and doesn't give any indication that spodos meant "ashes".

So while both ashes and skewers can be found at a bonfire, I'd still like to know where exactly the word שפוד came from. If it's Greek to you, please let me know...

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