Friday, September 23, 2011


In my previous post on the word "bar" בר, I mentioned that there was one more meaning I hadn't discussed. That, of course, is the identical meaning in English - "tavern", which is borrowed from English for use in Modern Israeli Hebrew. The "bar" in that bar refers to the counter on which the food or drinks were served.

The Hebrew word for "counter" is delpak דלפק (particularly the counter of a bank or a kiosk). Klein has the following entry:

1. Post-Biblical Hebrew: small tripod, small table. 2. New Hebrew: counter [Perhaps of Greek Delphike (= a table from Delphi)]

In the mishna we find alternate spellings: according to Albeck in Kelim 22:1 it is vocalized dulpeki דלפקי, and in Avoda Zara 5:5 dulbeki דלבקי.

One theory as to the origin of the name of the Greek site Delphi is that it derives from the "Greek delphis 'dolphin'. Supposedly Apollo assumed this form to found the shrine." In Modern Hebrew we also use the word "dolfin" דולפין to refer to the aquatic mammal, but there are those such as Yehuda Felix (quoted in the Daat Mikra on Yechezkel 16:9) and Sarna in in the JPS Shmot (25:5) who say that the Biblical tachash תחש was a dolphin (due to the similarity with the Arabic tuhas, meaning dolphin).

According to Klein and others, the Greek delphis for dolphin is related to delphus, "womb", in allusion to the womb of the female (unlike other non-mammalian sea creatures). A related word is the Greek adelphos "brother," literally "from the same womb," as is found in the city Philadelphia - the city of "brotherly love".

The older name for Delphi was Pytho, which gave the name "python", which was originally a "fabled serpent, slain by Apollo, near Delphi". Since at this oracle the gods would speak through the body of the priestess (who sat on a tripod), in Rabbinic Hebrew a pitom פיתום came to mean a ventriloquist. (And if you think this has anything to do with the phrase Ma Pitom - well, no way!)

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