Monday, January 12, 2015

fanfare and parpar

I would never have guessed that the word "fanfare" might have Semitic origins, but the Online Etymology Dictionary has this entry:

c.1600, "a flourish sounded on a trumpet or bugle," from French fanfare "a sounding of trumpets" (16c.), from fanfarer "blow a fanfare" (16c.), perhaps echoic, or perhaps borrowed (with Spanish fanfarron "braggart," and Italian fanfano "babbler") from Arabic farfar "chatterer," of imitative origin.

Now while the source might be from Arabic, if farfar is only of "imitative origin" (i.e. that's what chatter sounds like), there's not much more of a story to tell. But as with much of what we discuss here, there's more than one opinion.

Prof. Reuben Ahroni, in his book The Jews of the British Crown Colony of Aden: History, Culture, and Ethnic Relations, includes a glossary of Arabic words and writes the following regarding farfar:

farfar, mifarfar, to crush into small pieces (probably derived from Heb. porer, to crumble, shatter, smash)

And then with a footnote, includes this addition:

Ar. farfara "to flutter (of a bird)"

So now we have a Hebrew connection. Klein provides three related roots for פרר:

  • to crush, crumble, break into crumbs
  • to break, violate, annul, frustrate (this is the source of הפרה hafara - "violation")
  • to shake, shatter

And he also mentions two forms of the pilpel form of the root, פרפר

  • to break, crumble, crush
  • to shake, shatter

And from this sense, Klein derives the modern Hebrew word for butterfly - parpar פרפר (flutter is related to shake). Klein doesn't say who coined parpar, but other linguists point to Eliezer Ben Yehuda. For example, this article by Shoshana Kordova:

This is another one of the slew of words the Ben-Yehuda family coined in the early 20th century.
At the time, Hebrew writers used the word "tziporet" (from the word for bird) or "tziporet kramim" (tzi-po-RET kra-MIM, meaning vineyard bird) [ציפורת כרמים] for butterfly. Tziporet appears in the Mishna, but there it means generic "flying insect" -- most likely the original reference was to the locust. But since Hebrew had other words for locust ("arbeh"[ארבה]), and none for butterfly, it was appropriated for that use.
They [Eliezer and his son Itamar] chose the word based on this verb [pirper פרפר - to flutter] -- and on the name of a Biblical river: “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” (2 Kings 5:12)
It had the additional appeal of sounding (a little…) like the French word for butterfly, papillon.
The word parpar itself first appears in a poem written by Ben-Yehuda the younger in 1910 titled “Parpar.”  

A commenter on this page says that the French papillon is less likely the inspiration, and suggests the Italian *farfare. I did not find that word in Italian (at least not meaning "butterfly"), but there does exist the similar farfalla, and there certainly are precedents of Ben Yehuda using Italian as an inspiration for new Hebrew words (there are those that make the claim that his glida גלידה for "ice cream" was influenced by the Italian gelato). So while the origin might be Hebrew, the similarity to French or Italian could have played a role.

And one last note. While there is an Italian butterfly shaped pasta - farfalle - Gil Marks points out that is not the origin of the egg noodle "farfel". That comes from the German word for noodles, varvelen.

No comments: