Wednesday, February 18, 2015

keter and koteret

In the discussion of the word kaftor כפתור, I presented a theory that it derives from the word keter כתר - "crown". Let's take a look at the word keter.

In Biblical Hebrew, the verb כתר precedes the noun, historically. It means "to surround, encircle". (In post-biblical Hebrew we find the verb also meaning "to crown" - i.e. to make someone king or queen). The noun keter as "crown" first (and only) appears in the book of Ester (and actually never for the king - only for his queens or his horse). Previously in the Tanach we find the words atara עטרה or nezer נזר for "crown".

However, we do find a related word to keter frequently in earlier books - koteret כותרת. A koteret is the capital of a pillar (Klein writes "literally that which surrounds or crowns the top"). And if you look at our earlier post, that was a meaning of kaftor as well. Since the koteret is at the top of the amud עמוד - and amud can mean both pillar and page (originally a "column" in a scroll) - in later Hebrew koteret was used for the top of the page, or what we call today, a headline. From koteret we get the word kotar כותר - the title of a book (particularly as used when looking up a book in a library catalog.)

The Arabic word for the head of a town - mukhtar - is spelled in Hebrew מוכתר, but isn't actually related to keter. It comes from a separate Arabic root meaning chosen or good (khayr), and so should be really spelled מוח'תאר.

The Greeks likely borrowed from the Semitic keter for their words kitaris or kidaris, meaning a crown or tiara (used by Persian kings), and from the Greek it entered Latin as cidaris. This Latin root was used to name a genus of sea urchins - and it does kind look like they are wearing crowns...

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