Friday, February 06, 2015

arak and orek

Reader David asked me if there is any connection between arak ערק - "deserted", orek עורק - "artery" (also in botany "vein") and the anise flavored alcoholic drink arak.

The first word he asked about is a little more complicated, so let's skip it for now. Actually, let's start with the last. The source of the name of the drink is from the Arabic araq - meaning "to sweat" or "to water" (as in to water down a drink). This also may be the origin of the name of the Mesopotamian country Iraq:

often said to be from Arabic `araqa, covering notions such as "perspiring, deeply rooted, well-watered," which may reflect the impression the lush river-land made on desert Arabs.

It also may be the source of the herb "borage":

flowering plant used in salads, mid-13c., from Anglo-French, Old French borage (13c., Modern French bourrache), from Medieval Latin borrago. Klein says this is ultimately from Arabic abu arak, literally "the father of sweat," so called by Arab physicians for its effect on humans.

(There are alternate etymologies to both words - see the links to the Online Etymology Dictionary).

Stahl (in his etymological dictionary of Arabic) says that this root also gives us the Arabic word 'irq, meaning vein or artery, since they transfer fluids in the body. The Arabic is cognate with the Hebrew orek,  of which Klein says also originally meant "sinew".

The difficult word is the one meaning "to flee" (in Modern Hebrew it came to mean "to desert", particularly from the army. I assume this is because there already was a word - barach ברח, meaning  "to flee"). Arak clearly had that meaning in Aramaic, where it was used to translate Hebrew words, as in Onkelos on Shmot 21:13). What's less clear is what it means in the two occasions it appears in the Tanach, both in chapter 30 of Iyov.

Verse three reads:

בְּחֶסֶר וּבְכָפָן גַּלְמוּד    הַעֹרְקִים צִיָּה אֶמֶשׁ שׁוֹאָה וּמְשֹׁאָה

And the JPS translates it as "Wasted from want and starvation, they flee to a parched land, to the gloom of a desolate wasteland."

And in verse 17 we find the same root:

לַיְלָה עֲצָמַי נִקַּר מֵעָלָי    וְעֹרְקַי לֹא יִשְׁכָּבוּן

Here the translation isn't as simple. The JPS has "by night my bones feel gnawed; my sinews never rest". This reading has orek in the sense of sinew that we saw above. Gesenius says that some, based on the Arabic, interpret the verse as talking about arteries instead of sinews - "my arteries (the pulsations of the arteries) are not quiet". An alternate translation (going at least back to the Vulgate) says that the word actually means "to gnaw", with the verse meaning "those that gnaw me (i.e. my pains) are not quiet). Kaddari extends this to verse 3 as well, saying it means "they were forced to live on eager means" (a borrowed sense, literally meaning "they bit into me, my flesh is consumed") Amos Chacham in the Daat Mikra commentary says that (unlike Stahl), this sense of "eating away" or "dissolving through" the flesh is how the word came to mean artery or vein.

The JPS translation is based on Rashi, who quotes Dunash as saying that based on the Arabic, the phrase should be understood as "my sinews never rest". However, Rashi also quotes Dunash's adversary and rival linguist, Menachem, who says that here too the root means "to flee", and says that the word has the meaning here:"my pursuers, who caused me to flee".

So is there a connection between arak - "to flee" and orek - "artery" (either from the root meaning "to transfer liquid" or "to gnaw")? I haven't seen anything to convince me there is. But while they might not have a common origin, all of these meanings meet up as possible explanations for two obscure phrases in the book of Iyov. While instances like this are much more confusing, if it wasn't for them, I'd have a lot less to write about.

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