Friday, September 12, 2008


The Hebrew word for uncle is dod דוד (aunt is doda דודה). It is also a biblical word for lover. What's the connection between the two?

Klein suggests that the meaning uncle came first. He provides the following etymology:

Related to Syriac דדא (=uncle; beloved), Mandaic, Nabatean and Palmyrene dada (=father's brother), Arabic dad (=foster-father), dad (=play, game, joke), Akkadian dadu (=beloved child). All these words probably derive from infants' babbling 'dad'.
"Dad" as a word deriving from baby talk can also be found in English:

recorded from 1500, but probably much older, from child's speech, nearly universal and probably prehistoric (cf. Welsh tad, Ir. daid, Czech, L., Gk. tata, Lith. tete, Skt.
all of the same meaning).
Horowitz (pg. 50) offers a similar origin, although he says lover preceded uncle:

Dod is the most ancient Hebrew word for love. It is probably a primitive caressing syllable taken from the sound da-da that babies make. Babies' sounds are alos the origin of words like אמא - mamma, אבא - papa. This accounts for words like these being found in so many different languages.

דוד dod - lover, has come to mean "uncle". Next to the mother and father, the uncle was the lover and guardian.
As pointed out here (and discussed in the comments on this post), a connection between lover and uncle might be found in the fact that it was common, perhaps encouraged, for uncles to marry nieces in ancient times.

Horowitz also connects dod to the mandrake flowers known as dudaim דודאים because "women believed these flowers stimulated their husbands' love for them." I did find a source that tried to connect dud דוד - "kettle" (in Biblical Hebrew, now "boiler") to dod:

dod {dode}; from an unused root meaning properly, to boil, i.e. (figuratively) to love;
However none of my dictionaries connected dud to dod, and the Encyclopedia Mikrait says that dud actually comes from Egyptian.

A different view of the origin of dod can be found in Sanmartin-Ascaso's extensive article on dod in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. He writes:

Etymology. Little can be said with certainty about the etymology of Heb. dodh, pl. dodhim. It is possible that dodh is an onomatopoeic word (dad[u]) which arose out of repetition of the da, as is often the case with words that denote kinship. It is quite likely that dodh is a nominal form derived from the root w/ydd "to love" (-> ידד yadhadh). The question whether w/ydd can be traced back to an original onomatopoeic word (cf. Hurrian tat[t], "love") must remain open, as must also that of a possible connection between dodh and s/dad, "breasts".

He then goes on to describe how the different Semitic languages had different meanings for dod. In the Eastern languages, such as Akkadian, the word
means "beloved, darling" and denotes a (personal) object of love.
However, the Western Semitic languages such as Arabic
all use dwd in the sense of "(paternal) uncle"
He then presents the development of the word as follows:
One must assume a development form an original onomatopoeic word, perhaps *dada, "darling", to a verbal root (w/y)dd, "to love", from which the substantives dwd and ydd arose. If one assumes that the "uncle" played an important role in the Semitic family as provider and helper, the shift to uncle is easily understandable. In the East and Northwest Semitic region, dd retained the meaning "darling". But among the Aramean and Arabian tribes, where the way of life was influenced for a longer time by (semi-)nomadism and the family ties were stronger, the meaning "uncle" became predominant.
Sanmartin-Ascaso here provides a connection between the root ידד and dod. Klein, however, does not connect the two, but only writes the following in his entry for yadid ידיד - "friend, beloved":

Related to Ugaritic ydd (=friend, beloved), Syriac ידד, Arabic wadda (=he loved), Old South Arabic ודד ( = to love), Akkadian namaddu (=beloved).
Returning to Sanmartin-Ascaso, he points out that:

An initial survey makes it clear that in the OT two different meanings of dodh come together. One coincides with the Aramaic and Old South Arabic usage; here dodh means "(paternal) uncle".
The other corresponds to the meaning of the word among the old, sedentary and civilized peoples of Mesopotamia and Syria, viz. "darling, beloved".
We can now see three meanings of two (possibly) related words. In the Tanach, we find dod having only one of two meanings - uncle or romantic lover (very common in Shir HaShirim). In addition, we find the word yadid which seems to have only the platonic meaning of "friend". (This is also the meaning in modern Hebrew. When a girl says she has a chaver חבר, it means "boyfriend". If she wants to say just "friend", with no romantic connotations, she would say yadid. The same applies to chavera חברה and yedida ידידה for a boy.)

Gesenius brings two proofs that dod can mean "friend". I find this difficult. First of all, his only textual proof is from Yishayahu 5:1, and this is a difficult verse, but as Sanmartin-Ascaso writes (pg. 150):

To translate dodh by "friend" here would falsify the meaning and purpose of Isaiah's composition. In this context dodh means "beloved" in its fullest sense.
Gesenius then brings two parallel examples from other languages. He mentions the Aramaic חביבא as meaning "friend" and then "uncle". This is found in Bava Batra 41b, where Rav Chiya calls his uncle Rav by that term. However, Steinsaltz mentions a theory that חביבי might be a contraction of אחי אבי - "my father's brother". He also mentions that the Latin word for aunt, amita, is related to amata, "beloved". However, we've already seen that amita may very well be related to the Hebrew em. In any case, nothing he wrote convinces me that the Biblical dod means anything other than uncle or lover.

This division may help me solve my oldest etymological puzzle. For those that don't know, my name is David. I remember from when I was very young, I had a small framed card in my room, upon which it said that the name David meant "beloved". That seemed very nice - certainly "beloved" is a compliment. However, when I started learning Hebrew, that etymology seemed a little strange to me. I knew ahuv אהוב as "beloved", and that dod had connections to "love", but what was this strange form דוד (or דויד)? I know that it can be more difficult to determine the origins of names than other words - but why beloved? Why not "lover" or "loving"?

Most sources I've checked have connected david to dod. But the article on David by Carlson in the Theological Dictionary gave me some additional insight. It mentions that David, while mentioned 790 times in the Tanach, is associated exclusively with the king. Carlson writes that the meaning is "darling". He rejects a number of theories, including those that say that David wasn't his original name (but rather Elchanan) or that the name derives from the Akkadian word dawidum (found in the Mari tablets) meaning "(to inflict) defeat" (see the Encyclopedia Mikrait on David). He does write that:

From a linguistic point of view, the name Davidh can be understood as an imitation of yadhidh (homophony). It is less likely that Davidh is a passive participle of a verb dudh or that dodh was changed to davidh after the pattern of mashiach, "anointed one, messiah", or nasi, "chief, prince."
The suggestion that David derives from yadid and not dod, makes sense to me. As I mentioned earlier, in the Bible dod only means "uncle" or "romantic lover" - neither of which would be the likely source of the name David. There is also some textual evidence to support this. For example, we find that David's son Shlomo was also known as Yedidya (Shmuel II 12:24-25):

תֵּלֶד בֵּן, ויקרא (וַתִּקְרָא) אֶת-שְׁמוֹ שְׁלֹמֹה, וַה', אֲהֵבוֹ. וַיִּשְׁלַח, בְּיַד נָתָן הַנָּבִיא, וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, יְדִידְיָהּ--בַּעֲבוּר, השם.

She bore him a son and named him Shlomo. The Lord loved him, and he sent a message through the prophet Natan; and he was named Yedidya at the instance of the Lord.
In addition, we find that Binyamin was also called yadid of God in Moshe's blessing (Devarim 33:12). What is the connection between Binyamin, David and Shlomo? Carlson writes:

It is significant that the youngest brother often receives the name "darling". In the OT, Solomon's name "Jedidah" reflects this custom (2 S. 11:27, 12:24f). The youngest of the Jacob tribes, Benjamin, receives the epithet yedhidh yhvh, "the beloved of God" (Dt. 33:12). Therefore, it is understandable that the eighth (1 2. 16:10f; 17:12; according to 1 Ch. 2:13-16, the seventh) and youngest son of Jesse is given the name Davidh, "darling".
Tigay, in the JPS Devarim on 33:12, noticed the connection as well, but offers a slightly different explanation:

Beloved of the Lord: If this means that God favored Benjamin politically, it could reflect the tribe's prestige when Ehud the Benjaminite was chieftain, when Samuel's leadership was centered in the Benjaminite territory, or the choice of the Benjaminite Saul as Israel's first king (note that the future King Solomon was called Yedidyah, "Beloved of the Lord" [2 Sam 12:25].)
So either yadid referred to the youngest son or it meant the one chosen for the kingship. Perhaps it even meant both, since usually the oldest son would be chosen for leadership, and here, yadid designated a chosen, youngest, darling son. (A proof of my objectivity is that despite me being the oldest son and a David, I put forth that theory.)

Jastrow translates yadid as "chosen". His etymology is rather far-fetched so I won't go into it, but the usage in Rabbinic literature does seem to fit that definition. For example, in Mechilta Beshalach 2:5, it describes ידידי טובעים בים - I think the translation "my chosen ones are drowning in the sea" works better than "my friends are drowning in the sea."

In modern Hebrew, dod has no romantic connotation at all. When not used for "uncle", it can mean "buddy" in slang.

In biblical Hebrew we find the phrase ben-dod בן דוד for "the son of the uncle", i.e. cousin. Apparently at the time of the 1943 kinship terms dictionary (discussed here), it was decided that a better term for cousin would be dodan דודן (the female is dodanit דודנית). I'm not sure what motivated the change - perhaps they felt that ben dod wasn't accurate enough, since a cousin could be the son of an aunt, or even a second cousin (not the descendant of an uncle or an aunt.) But in any case, the term is rarely used, and Safa Ivrit says it is usually found only in translated literature.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

saba and savta

There's a certain Hebrew kinship term that I've been putting off writing about because it's rather complicated. So I thought I'd write about saba סבא - "grandfather" and savta סבתא - "grandmother" instead, because they seemed much simpler. As often happens, I greatly underestimated the complexity of these "simple" words.

The only thing I can say with certainty is that in modern Hebrew, saba and savta are the words commonly used. (Note that it is savta, and not safta. I think that switch - also found between Rivka and Rifka - is due to both v and f being labiodental fricatives, one voiced and one voiceless, and when followed by a stop consonant like k or t, sound very similar.)

However, the term seems fairly recent. The 1943 official dictionary of kinship terms in Hebrew (as I discussed here) lists "grandfather" as sav סב and "grandmother" as savah סבה, but adds the following note:

השמות סַבָּא, סַבְּתָא מותרים ככינויי חיבה, וניקודם בבית דגושה אע"פ ששרשם ע"י, מתוך היקש למלה אַבָּא

The names saba and sabta are permitted for use as terms of affection, and the letter bet is accented [not sure what this part means - any ideas?] due to the similar sound of the word abba.

They then add a smaller line (I assume added after 1943):

השמות סַבָּא, סָבְתָא (בי"ת בלא דגש) מותרים גם בשימוש כללי ולא רק ככינויי חיבה.

which justifies the general usage of the words, and allows the common pronunciation savta, where the bet does not have an accent.

Horowitz (page 100) describes the word saba as follows:

It is a word created by the little children in Israel, following closely the word "abba". The children were told to call this relative סב (sav) but it was simply much easier for them to link both these older loving male adults with these two similar sounding names, אבא (abba) and סבא (saba).

However, Ben Yehuda, in his dictionary which was written not long before, does not list sav, saba, sava or savta as meaning grandfather or grandmother. I don't have the ability to do a full text search through the entire 17 volume dictionary (but wouldn't that be amazing?). However, I did see that one of his definitions for zaken זקן is "grandfather", so perhaps that was his preferred word.

I'd really like to know what was the common word in Hebrew for grandfather in the first half of the 20th century. Perhaps one reason why zaken wasn't adopted can be found in the entry for the generic "grandparents" in the Vaad HaLashon list. They suggest the term הורים סבים horim savim, and explain:

שם כולל לסב ולסבה; עדיף השם הוֹרִים סָבִים מן השם הוֹרִים זְקֵנִים שעלול להטעות כאילו הכוונה לגיל ההורים

A general term for the grandfather and the grandmother; the name horim savim is preferable to horim zekenim הורים זקנים because the later is likely to confuse people who will think that it refers to the age of the parents.
Both zaken and sav mean "old". Sav is originally Aramaic, and corresponds to the Biblical Hebrew sav שב. This word is closely related to the word seiva שיבה - meaning "old age" and "grey hair". But in these biblical mentions (Iyov 16:10, Melachim I 14:4) it doesn't mean grandfather - only "old person". In fact, I couldn't find one example in the entire Tanach where a word was used to refer to "grandfather"! I find this very surprising. I know we've seen an example before of a Biblical Hebrew word that didn't make it into the Bible, but I figured that grandfather would be a much more common word.

As far as Talmudic Hebrew, Jastrow has sav and sava as "grey, old; elder; ancestor; scholar". He does have one mention of savta as grandmother - Bava Batra 125b. His third definition of zaken is "grandfather, ancestor", although his example is of the word being used as an ancestor, not a literal grandfather. Neither Ben-Yehuda nor Even-Shoshan bring Talmudic examples of sava meaning "grandfather". However, in the course of researching this post, I did find a few examples where sava clearly meant grandfather: Ketubot 72b, Yevamot 38a and 40b. (I also found a few examples of zaken, as well as avi av אבי אב - "father's father".) Here too, the ability to perform a comprehensive search of all Hebrew literature would help determine what names were used when for grandfather and grandmother.

What about great-grandfather and great-grandmother? The 1943 list suggests av-shilesh אב-שילש and em-shilesha אם-שלשה. However, these names weren't adopted, but instead the recommended terms are saba raba סבא-רבא and savta-rabta סבתא-רבתא. Rabta is the Aramaic feminine plural, and is therefore more correct. However, if usage is any indication, the proper form might not win out. Look at the following Google results:

  • סבתא רבא has 11,000 results
  • סבתא רבה has 7,910 results
  • סבתא רבתא has 3,350 results
So it could be in the not so distant future that savta-raba will be the official term...