Wednesday, March 18, 2015


A reader asked if there is any connection between the Hebrew word for wallet or purse - ארנק arnak, and the French word arnaque - "to swindle" (perhaps due to antisemitic associations between Jews and money).

That doesn't seem to be the case (not that there's no precedence for antisemitism in language, years ago I heard about how the ASL sign for "Jew" was the same as the one for "stingy"). Arnaque derives from arnaquer, which in turn comes from a German word for harness - "harnacher". This Wikipedia page describes the etymology as follows: harnacher, arnaquer "to amuse, swindle" < harnacher "to harness, equip, disguise".

Arnak is originally a Talmudic word, appearing as ארנקא (Bava Batra 8a, Berachot 19a) or ארנקי (Yerushalmi Kiddushin 61a). Klein provides the following etymology:

Back formation from Aramaic ארנקי, which is borrowed from Greek arnakis (= sheepskin coat), a feminine noun probably formed through haplology from arno-nakos, a compound formed from aren, genitive arnos (=sheep) and nakos (=fleece).

Arnakis may also be the source of the plant name Arnica.

Nakos comes from a Greek root meaning "press, squeeze", and so has a cognate in the word nastic, a botanic phenomenon where one side of a plant moves because it's being pressed or squeezed from another. Wallet and squeezing? I can feel a connection...

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