Monday, February 22, 2016

rega, shaah, daka and shaon

Originally, the Hebrew rega רגע and Aramaic shaah שעה were synonymous - both meant "instant" or "moment". Rega appears over 20 times in the Tanach with that meaning, and sha'ah is found five times in the Aramaic section of the book of Daniel, as well as in the Aramaic translations of the biblical rega.

The etymology of rega is in dispute. The root רגע has two meanings. The more familiar one means "to be at rest", and is found in such words as ragua רגוע- "relaxed" and margia מרגיע - "calming". A second meaning is "to move, set in motion, disturb" (as in Yeshaya 31:34). Klein presents two possibilities as to the connection between the two meanings. Either they are related, with both sharing a common root meaning "to return" (there is a cognate Arabic word with that sense), so the first meaning literally means "returned to rest after wanderings" and the second meaning focuses on the "movement" found in returning. The second theory, which Klein prefers, says the two roots are not related, and the latter is related to two other Hebrew roots also meaning "to disturb" - רגש and רגז.

Along these lines, Klein mentions two theories of the etymology of rega:

Probably derived from רגע (= to move), and literally meaning 'a twinkling (of the eye)'. For sense development, compare Latin momentum (=movement, motion; short time, moment) from movere (=to move).

Some scholars also derive rega from רגע, but in the sense of Arabic raja'a (=he returned) and compare the phrase qabla 'an yartadda ilayka tarfuka 'in the twinkling of an eye, instantly' (literally: 'before your look returns to you')
This phrase "twinkling (or wink) of the eye" is found in Hebrew as well, also with the meaning "instant": הרף עין heref ayin.

As Hebrew progressed into its post-biblical phase, the original sense of both words was maintained in many usages, but with the growing field of science they each gained an additional meaning: a specific, measured, unit of time. A shaah was one twelfth of the time between sunrise and sunset (or sunset to sunrise), and is close to our modern sense of "hour".  A rega was a small fraction of that time - according to the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachot 1:1) it was either 1/56848 of a shaah (about 0.06 seconds), a heref ayin, the or the amount of time to say the word rega.

(Eliahu Netanel here quotes Rabbi Baruch Epstein in his book Baruch She'amar as saying that the expression "even one shaah" in the blessing "Asher Yatzar" can't be referring to the later meaning, 1/24 of the day, but must be the earlier sense of "instant".)

In the Middle Ages, the word dak דק replaced rega as the unit of time smaller than a shaah, with the meaning of "minute", one-sixtieth of an hour - again due to a need for more precise terms. The Hebrew adjective dak also means "thin, lean, small". Think of the dual meaning of "minute" in English - "small" and "1/60th of an hour". Klein gives the following etymology to dak as a unit of time:

Based on Arabic daqiqah (= minute) and influenced by Medieval Latin minuta, short for Latin pars minuta prima (literally: 'the first small part')

Around the same time, the Hebrew shniah שנייה came to mean the even smaller "second" (as in Latin and English - this is the second division of the hour, after the division into minutes). Rega returned to its earlier sense of "moment" (which, as in English, doesn't refer to a particular amount of time, although like rega once did), however until recent generations was still occasionally used for "minute" as well. (Ben Yehuda criticized this usage, while others, such as Avineri, supported it, and said rega was even a better term than daka for minute. Ben Yehuda won that battle.)

In modern Hebrew dak was replaced with daka דקה. This article claims that perhaps this was from the influence of the endings of the Arabic daqiqah, Latin minuta, and Hebrew shaah. The same article goes on to say that the male forms of minute - rega and dak - apparently had enough influence on spoken Hebrew that even today the common way of saying the time has the minutes in the masculine form - for example, 5:55 would be spoken חמשה לשש - chamisha l'shesh (five [minutes] to six) instead of חמש לשש chamesh l'shesh (which would be proper if the first number referred to female dakot דקות). Some people find the current usage improper or grating (for example in the book Rega Shel Ivrit) but the article quoted above, by the Hebrew Language Academy, says the practice is so well established that it's not worth fighting.

Shaah still maintains in modern Hebrew its early sense of "instant" particularly in phrases such as otah shaah אותה שעה - "at the same time" (which doesn't mean "within the same hour"). However, in general it refers to our familiar "hour" - sixty minutes.

And continuing this trend of scientific progress, in the modern period a word was needed for the instrument used to measure and display time - the clock. (Already in the Mishna, Kelim 12:4, we find a term for a sundial - אבן שעות even shaot). As was common in the Haskala period of Hebrew (which preceded modern Hebrew), longer compound phrases were used, such as moreh shaot מורה שעות. In 1885, Yechiel Michael Pines (and not Ben-Yehuda as some mistakenly claim) coined the term shaon שעון (following the general trend of preferring shorter, one word neologisms). And despite the opposition of some - either because they preferred to use existing Hebrew words (as mentioned by Klausner), or they thought shaon was too similar to שאון shaon meaning "noise, tumult" (as mentioned by Avineri) - shaon became the modern Hebrew word for "clock".  Avshalom Kor has a nice video about the history of the word here - enjoy!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

karas and crash

My wife asked me if there is any connection between the English word "crash" and the Hebrew verb קרס - which means to "collapse", and can be used to refer to a computer when it crashes.

The two words do not have a common origin. "Crash" has the following etymology:

late 14c., crasschen "break in pieces;" probably imitative. Meaning "break into a party, etc." is 1922. Slang meaning "to sleep" dates from 1943; especially from 1965. Computing sense is from 1973.

I think it's likely that the similar sound of the English word "crash" had some influence when Israelis were looking for a Hebrew verb to describe a computer or program that stopped working.

Today karas means "to collapse, to fall", but the original meaning was "to bend down, stoop." It referred to stooping very low, and was used in parallel with כרע - "to bow down". The only two places it is found in the Tanach is in Yeshaya 46:1-2, where it says כָּרַע בֵּל, קֹרֵס נְבוֹ - "Bel bowed down, Nevo stooped (karas)" and קָרְסוּ כָרְעוּ יַחְדָּו - "they stooped and bowed down together."

We do find a couple of other words used today that derive from the same root, meaning "bend". The word keres קרס means "hook", and is found in the description of the tabernacle in Shemot 26:6. I don't think it's used as frequently as the synonym vav וו, but we do see it in the Hebrew word for swastika - tzlav keres צלב קרס  - "hooked cross".

Klein also connects the word for ankle, karsol קרסול . This is also a biblical word, found in Shmuel II 22:37 and Tehilim 18:37.

If "ankle" seems familiar, it's because we've discussed it before here. Take a look!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

atar and asher

It's hard to believe, but today is ten years since my first post on Balashon. According to my official statistics (since May 2010, so I know there are many more since the start in 2006), I've had over 2.5 million visits, with the most popular post being "avuka and ptil" (no idea why). And while it's not so surprising that the top country of visitors to Balashon is the United States, I was not expecting to see China at number two, over Israel.  Some of my posts have been rather short, and others have been quite long and detailed. There have been periods when I've written very frequently, and some long breaks without posting.

Even when I'm not writing as much as I'd like, I still love having Balashon to come back to. From your emails, and my research, I have a very long list of topics to write about, so I don't see any reason I can't continue this for years to come. I hope that you continue to enjoy visiting here as well.

Since it's ten years since I started this site, I thought a good word to write about would be atar אתר - "site". The word entered into post-biblical Hebrew from Aramaic, and meant "place" - a synonym with the biblical word makom מקום. But as we've seen many times before, instead of two words remaining synonyms, one ended up filling a linguistic vacuum. So instead of the more general "place", in Modern Hebrew atar was used for "site" - as in atar b'niya - אתר בנייה - "construction site", atar tayarut אתר תיירות - "tourist site" - or when it's used with no other word, today atar generally refers to a website. (Yaakov Etzion points out that this transition seems to have take place between 1948 and 1958, as the meaning "site" only appears in the latter year's Even-Shoshan dictionary.)

The root אתר is also used as a verb, and so the gerund itur איתור can either mean "localization", or more commonly, "locating". And if we go back to the Aramaic source, we find more Hebrew words that derive from atar. The phrase al atar על אתר - "on the spot" (literally "on the place") was eventually contracted (losing the guttural ayin as well) to "אלתר" as found in the form le'altar לאלתר - "at once". This was adopted into Modern Hebrew as "to improvise", and so iltur אילתור means "improvisation".

Another Aramaic contraction containing atar that is used today is the prefix batar בתר - "after, post", which originally was the term ba'atar באתר - literally "in the place of, that which came after something". We see it used in such phrases as batar-mikrai בתר-מקראי - "post-biblical".

If we go further back, we find that the Aramaic root אתר is cognate with the Hebrew אשר. That root is found in many words, and it's not entirely clear which are connected to atar. Let's take a look.

Klein provides three different, and perhaps distinct, entries for אשר.

The first has the meaning "to walk straight, to walk", and this is the one he connects with atar. He finds a number of additional Semitic cognates, including the Arabic 'ithr and Akkadian ashru, both meaning "place". In Biblical Hebrew we find the verb in forms meaning "he walked" or "he led" (e,g, Mishlei 9:6, Yeshaya 9:15), but they are rarely used in Hebrew today. Klein does, however, connect one extremely common word to this root: asher אשר - "which, that". He writes that "according to most scholars these words were originally nouns meaning 'trace, place'". He doesn't elaborate, but I assume this means that the word meant "of that place". From here we also get the word ka'asher כאשר - "when".

His second entry means "to be happy", and this is found in the words meushar מאושר - "happy" and osher אושר - "happiness". For the etymology he writes:

Perhaps related to Ugaritic ushr (= happiness), Arabic yasara (= was easy), yassara ( =made easy, prospered)

What's strange to me is that in his entry for yashar ישר - "straight", he says it is cognate with the Arabic yasara (= it was or became easy) as well. So if yasara is related to אשר meaning "happy" as well as yashar meaning "straight" - shouldn't the first meaning of אשר as "to walk straight" be connected with the second meaning "happy"? But perhaps that's just speculation on my part.

Klein's third entry doesn't seem to be connected at all to the first two. He defines it as "to strengthen, confirm" and writes that it is cognate with the root שרר, "was strong" which is the root of the word sherir שריר - "muscle".  This root gives us ishur אישור - "approval", ishrur אישרור - "ratification" and probably ashrai אשראי - "credit".

So to sum up - thank you for giving me your approval and credit all these years - I was very happy when working on the site (even if sometimes I had to improvise). I've benefited from your involvement, and I hope you've learned something as well. Ashreinu!

Monday, February 01, 2016

kasher and kosher

One of the few Hebrew words that most English speakers know is "kosher". When used to describe food, it means that it conforms to the regulations of Jewish dietary laws, and in the more general sense it can mean "legitimate, genuine, correct." The word kosher clearly comes from the Hebrew כשר kasher (the pronunciation and spelling kosher is from the Ashkenazic and Yiddish influence), but the Hebrew kasher and its associated words have many more meanings. Let's take a look.

As I've discussed before, I listen to a lot of podcasts. However, in that previous post I didn't mention one podcast that would be of particular interest to readers of Balashon. In each episode of the podcast StreetWise Hebrew, host Guy Sharett takes a Hebrew root, and shows its various forms and uses in Modern Hebrew, accompanied by clips from news broadcasts, commercials, songs and more. Each podcast is only 10-15 minutes, and it's great for both those learning Hebrew for the first time, as well as more veteran fans of the language (like me). I highly recommend it.

In his episode on the word kasher, Guy discusses many words that are related to that root. In addition to kasher - which, similar to "kosher" in English, also means "fit, valid, reliable" (besides its association with food), he also provides the following  words:

kashir – Capable – כשיר
kishurim – Qualifications – כישורים
hechsher – “Kosherizing,” authorization – הכשר
hachshara – “Kosherizing” meat; training – הכשרה
lehachshir – To render something kosher, to train, to prepare, to authorize – להכשיר
muchshar, muchesheret – Talented – מוכשר, מוכשרת
kosher – Fitness, ability, capability – כושר

You should notice that all the words listed have something to do with either being fit, or preparing to make fit. Only a few of them have to do with food - and those that do are related to the preparation of the food, not the supervision. If you understand this, the term "kosher salt" will make more sense - it's not that this kind of salt is permitted according to Jewish law (all salt is), but that it is used in the preparation of meat, according to Jewish law.

Another interesting point here is that Hebrew also has the word "kosher", but it refers to physical fitness, not food you can eat. Probably a healthier approach...

One thing that Guy does not usually discuss is etymology. So let's look at the background to this root.

The root only appears a few times in the Tanach, mostly in the later books. Esther (8:5) has the adjective kasher, and Kohelet has the verb form twice (10:10, 11:6) as well as the related kisharon כשרון - "talent, skill" (2:21, 4:4, 5:10). The appearance in these books is generally attributed to an Aramaic influence where the word is commonly used, and Klein finds cognates in the Ugaritic ktr (=fit, suitable) and Akkadian kasharu (= to succeed).

Two other biblical words, which each appear only once in the Tanach, and may be related to the root are kosharot כושרות  in Tehillim 68:7 whose meaning is unclear, and might mean "prosperity" (although the Radak and other say it might derive from the root קשר - "to bind"), and kishor כישור - "distaff " in Mishlei 31:19. Klein says that the etymology of kishor is uncertain, and the BDB suggests that perhaps the origin is in the root ישר - "to make straight".

Yaakov Etzion discusses the etymology of the root further in this post. He points out that kasher is used often in the Aramaic targumim of the Hebrew Tanach as a translation of yashar ישר - "right, just", and is found - in various forms - very frequently in Rabbinic Hebrew (which had much influence from Aramaic).

He focuses on the interesting word machshir מכשיר - which in Modern Hebrew means "tool, device, instrument". Guy didn't discuss it in his podcast. How is it related to the senses of "preparation" or "fitness"?

Jastrow defines the term as it appears in Talmudic Hebrew as "preparatory means, preliminary acts", and the eponymous tractate of Mishna meant "things which make an object fit for levitical uncleanness". (Etzion points out that we see from these examples and other similar ones that the root kasher is not always used to mean something prepared for a positive use).

As Hebrew began its renewal as a spoken language, machshir was adopted in a number of compound phrases (much more common in that period than now), but still maintaining the sense of things that are "preparatory". So Etzion gives the examples of machshirei seuda מכשירי סעודה as "things needed to prepare a meal" (like a tablecloth and silverware) and machshirei ketiva מכשירי כתיבה - "things needed for writing" (like pen and paper). But over time the sense of "preparatory, necessary" was dropped and it just became a word for tool, instrument (a synonym for keli כלי). So for example, machshirei chashmal מכשירי חשמל are electric devices, with no sense of "preparation" for electricity.

So I hope I've prepared you to use the root kasher properly. And now I need to go for a walk, listen to  my podcasts, burn off all this kosher food I just ate, and get into kosher!