Thursday, August 07, 2008


We've discussed ach and achot - brother and sister. Now lets look at a word for a subset of siblings - twins. The Hebrew word for twins, teomim תאומים - appears four times in the Tanach: twice in Bereshit (25:24, 38:27) and twice in Shir HaShirim (4:5, 7:4). The singular form - תאום teom - never appears. According to Ben-Yehuda, it never appears in the singular in Talmudic Hebrew either - but that's much harder for me to confirm, since I don't have a complete concordance of Talmudic Hebrew as I do for Biblical Hebrew. Jastrow does mention the singular feminine form - teuma תאומה - but not the singular masculine teom. Ben-Yehuda also notes that it isn't clear from the Biblical usage whether the word only meant two children born at the same time, or if it would be used for triplets or quadruplets as well.

The parallel verbal root תאם finds its way into a number of verbs:

  • תאם - to be duplicate, to be similar, to resemble, to correspond
  • תיאם - to coordinate, so tium תיאום is coordination
  • התאים - to suit, fit, match. According to some, the Biblical use (Shir HaShirim 4:2, 6:6) meant "to give birth to twins". Jastrow writes that in Talmudic Hebrew "to be twin-like, joined, adjoining." Klein adds that in Medieval Hebrew, this form of the verb was causative, and meant "he fitted, suited, conformed, adapted". In Modern Hebrew it took on the passive form, and began to mean "was fit, was suited, was adapted". The expression matim li מתאים לי means "it suits me" or, better, "it works for me".
One English word is related to the Hebrew word teom: the name Thomas. The Online Etymology Dictionary shows how the name came from the cognate Syriac תאמא:

from Gk. Thomas, of Aramaic origin and said to mean "a twin" (John's gospel refers to Thomas as ho legomenos didymos "called the twin;" cf. Syriac toma "twin," Arabic tau'am "twin"). Before the Conquest, found only as the name of a priest. After 1066, one of the most common given names.
Horowitz (p 284) adds that:

Tom like Jack is used to indicate the male of the species. Thus we have "tom Turkey" or "tom cat", the male and tougher variety of those interesting animals. A "tomboy" is a girl who acts like a boy.
(It should be noted that there are other explanations for "tomboy" - there are those that connect it to the word "tumble", because the girl dances - tumbles - around like a boy.)

Interestingly, a popular name for boys in Israel is Tom תום (pronounced "tome"). I'm guessing that Israelis like it because it has only one syllable (very common in secular Israeli first names) but also because it sounds more like an English name. I wonder how many of them know that this word too has Hebrew origins...

No comments: