Sunday, September 25, 2016


A reader wrote and asked how did keren קרן come to mean both "horn, ray" and "fund"?

Both Even-Shoshan and Klein say there are two possible answers. We'll look at each, but first let's take a look at the two meanings.

The first dictionary entry for keren, is found throughout Biblical Hebrew and has a number of meanings:

  • horn (as in the horn of an animal)
  • a shofar (made from a horn)
  • strength, power (figuratively related to the strength of the horn)
  • ray, beam (a ray protrudes from its source like a horn. A misreading of the Biblical verse describing the rays radiating from Moshe caused many Christians to believe that Moshe, and in fact all Jews, had horns).
  • corner, point (again, related to the idea of "protrusion")
  • container (a horn was used to hold things, like oil, food, etc)
Keren meaning "fund, capital, principal" is a financial term, and is found in post-biblical Hebrew. It always has a distinct dictionary entry.

While as I said, both Klein and Even-Shoshan say that this later meaning of keren might have developed from the earlier one, neither explain how. Horowitz, however, does write (page 63):

Since keren, the horn, was used to store oil it gradually came to mean a receptacle in general, or a place where things are stored. From this usage developed the meaning "a fund".

He doesn't quote any verses, but the usage in Shmuel I 16:13 - keren  hashemen קרן השמן - "the keren of oil" (used for anointing kings) is one example of this usage. So keren went from a horn used to store oil and became a fund used to "store" money.

An alternate explanation says that the two meanings of keren have different roots. For the meaning "fund", Klein provides this etymology, unrelated to "horn":
borrowed from Akkadian qerenu (=heap, pile, stack; threshing floor), qaranu (=he heaped, piled)

This would mean that this sense of keren is cognate to the Hebrew goren גורן - "threshing floor", as both have the same Akkadian root.

Keren as horn, however, has a very ancient etymology, and many sources, such as this one, find cognates in Indo-European languages (and I briefly touched on it in this post).

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

ketev and kotev

In the Bible, we find the word ketev קטב meaning "destruction, plague". It appears in this form in Devarim 32:24, Tehilim 91:6, and Yeshaya 28:2. In Hoshea 13:14 there is a different vocalization - it appears as kotev. In Talmudic Hebrew and later, ketev is also the name of a demon.

A homonym is kotev meaning "axis, pole". This usage began in the Middle Ages. For example, Ibn Tibbon uses it in his Hebrew translation of the Arabic Guide of the Perplexed by Maimonides.

Is there any connection between the two words?

Regarding ketev, Klein follows the Ben Yehuda dictionary and provides the following etymology:

Related to Aramaic קטב (=he cut), Arabic qataba (= he cut off), qutbah (=arrow).

And as is mentioned in the Ben Yehuda dictionary, a connection between arrows and ketev as destruction can be found in the chapter of Tehilim (91:5-6) where ketev is mentioned:

You need not fear the terror by night, or the arrow that flies by day, the plague that stalks in the darkness, or the scourge (ketev) that ravages at noon.

Other Hebrew roots beginning with the letters קט that mean "cut" include קטם,  קטע, קטם, קטף, as well as the related words beginning with קצ (as we discussed here).

Kotev meaning "axis, pole", derives directly from the Arabic qutb, of the same meaning. Klein does not connect qutb - "axis" and qutbah - "arrow", and Ben Yehuda's comment suggests a possible connection but does not elaborate. I could imagine that the straightness of an arrow could lead to a connection with poles or a straight line like an axis. However, I haven't found confirmation of that. Perhaps one of you readers has a source that can help?

Saturday, September 10, 2016


What is the origin of the Hebrew slang word chupar צ'ופר meaning "bonus" or "perk"? Ruvik Rosenthal in his Hebrew slang dictionary offers two suggestions.

The first is that it derives from the Spanish word chupar, meaning "to suck", either via Ladino or perhaps directly from Spanish. He suggest that if this is the case, it might be found in a phrase like "para chuparse los dedos", which is Spanish for  "finger-licking good" (and in fact was used as the slogan for KFC). Chupar, which is of imitative origin (a sucking sound), is also found in the legendary monster, the chupacabra, which literally means "goat sucker."

The other suggestion is that is the Hebrew chupar comes from an altered version of the adjective meshupar משופר - improved. This supposedly began in the Israeli army before the Six Day War, where the soldiers were served manot krav meshuparot מנות קרב משופרות - "improved battle rations", which the soldiers shortened to mechuparot מצ'ופרות, and from that adjective the noun chupar arose.

Another related slang word that came out of the Israeli army is shaptzer שפצר. This root is a combination of שפר - "to improve" and שפץ - "to repair". Together, shaptzer means to repair and improve - i.e. "to renovate."