Monday, February 20, 2017

chofesh and chovesh

A while back we talked about herut חרות - "freedom". But what about the similar word chofshi חפשי - "free" and the related chofesh חופש and chufsha חופשה - which originally meant "freedom" and today have the sense of "vacation, holiday" (the former being more general, and the latter referring to a specific break from school or work)?

The etymology of the root חפש is not clear. Klein mentions an Ugaritic cognate hps - "freeman, soldier", and Kaddari brings the Akkadian hupsu. However, one of the more interesting theories connects it to the root חבש, meaning "to bind" (or in more particular usages - to saddle an animal, to dress a wound or to imprison someone.) From this root we get the word chovesh חובש - "medic" (one who bandages wounds) and machbosh מחבוש - "(military) incarceration." Klein says that perhaps even the Hebrew word for quince, chabush חבוש, has the same origin, due to its "constipating effect."

I found the connection between חפש and חבש first mentioned in the writings of the 19th century writer Isaac Baer Levinsohn, who here suggests that the two related roots are an example of a "contronym" - one common root developing opposite meanings. (We've seen examples of such contronyms in Hebrew before.) While certainly most uses of chofesh and chofshi in Biblical Hebrew refer to freedom, there are a couple of examples that Levinsohn brings which would seem to point to the opposite connotation. 
He quotes Tehilim 88:6 -  בַּמֵּתִים חָפְשִׁי כְּמוֹ חֲלָלִים שֹׁכְבֵי קֶבֶר, which the JPS translates as "abandoned [chofshi] among the dead, like bodies lying in the grave". This translation uses "abandoned" which is a sense of "free" - free of all obligations or connections in this world. However, Levinsohn says chofshi here is like chavush - "imprisoned."
Another example is from Melachim II 15:5, where it describes how the king was plagued with leprosy and lived בְּבֵית הַחָפְשִׁית - b'veit hachofshit.  The JPS translates this as "isolated quarters", similar to the translation "abandoned" above. However, the context here is discussing some type of imprisonment, and this is how Levinsohn, and later the Daat Mikra explain the verse - as if it was בית החבשית beit hachavshit - "prison".

He says both senses can be understood via "the idlers who are free [from work, society] but are sealed in their homes."
In light of this, Aveneri (Yad Halashon, pp 197-198) says that overall, chofesh and chofshi have a somewhat negative connotation. It describes a slave being released, but not a state of true freedom. And as we've seen it can describe a leper being sent away or the state of the dead in the grave (whether or not we accept the connection between chofesh and chovesh). This caused some critics to oppose the phrase עם חופשי am chofshi in Israel's anthem, Hatikva, since chofshi here seems to only freedom from obligations, not a particular mission. Judaism generally focuses on commandments and obligations, so they preferred an adjective like kadosh קדוש - "holy" - which implies a higher level of obligation.

I don't think that the negative connotation of chofesh remains in Hebrew today. However, the tension between "freedom from" and "freedom to" certainly exists, as any parent can tell you during the חופש הגדול chofesh hagadol - "summer vacation"...

Sunday, February 12, 2017

chelek and chaklaut

A friend recently asked me a question about metathesis - the rearranging of letters in a word. Let's take a quick look at an example in Hebrew.

The word helek חלק - "part, portion" derives from the verb חלק - "to divide, share" (according to Klein). He does not connect this root to chalak חלק - "smooth", which he says is related to the Arabic halaqa "he made smooth" which is related to halaqa meaning "he created." Klein also mentions halaqa - "he measured, measured off" as a cognate of חלק meaning "to divide", but again, he doesn't connect the roots. Stahl, however, does connect them, saying that "he created" and "he measured" are related. And if I understand the footnote in Ben Yehuda correctly, he says that the meaning "smooth" could have evolved from a sense "to shave", which would have originally been "to cut, to divide." This sense - of shaving, making smooth - is the source of the halaka חלאקה - the Mizrahi version of the Ashkenazi upsherin,  the ceremony of the first haircut for three year old boys.

Chaklaut חקלאות - "agriculture" and chaklai חקלאי - "agricultural"/ "farmer" are modern Hebrew words coined by David Yellin, formed from the Aramaic words chakal חקל and chakla חקלא, both meaning "field." This Aramaic word is a metathesis of chelek - literally "a portion of land." We find chelek being used for a field in many places, such as Bereshit 33:19 - חלקת השדה chelkat hasadeh - "a portion of the field".

Monday, February 06, 2017

hasta and ad

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been in the news recently, so I thought I'd take a look at the first word of his catchphrase, "Hasta la vista, baby". While hasta la vista is used to mean "see you later", the literal meaning in Spanish is "Until the (next) sighting." The word hasta, "until", has its origins in Arabic, coming from the Arabic word ḥattá (or hata) - also meaning "until."

I looked around for a Hebrew cognate to hatta, and if I understand these (1, 2, 3) books correctly, there is an unsurprising one - ad עד - "until" in Hebrew.

Klein says that ad, and its older form adei עדי, come from the root עדה, meaning "to pass by" (found in Iyov 28:8 and Mishlei 25:20). This is also the root of ad meaning "eternity", which Klein says literally means "progress in time".

Ad as "until" is found in a few other words:

  • Biladei בלעדי - "without, apart from". Klein says it is compounded of bal בל (=not) and adei עדי (= as far as, up to). That preposition is the source of the adjective biladi בלעדי - "exclusive"
  • Achshav עכשיו - "now". Klein says it is probably a contraction of "ad kshe'hu" עד כשהוא - literally, "until as it is".
  • Idkun עדכון - "update". This is from the root עדכן, which is a contraction of ad kan עד כאן - "until here, so far."

And lastly we have the word for a Purim carnival, עדלידע (or עדלאידע) adloyada. This is a contraction of the Aramaic phrase found in Megila 7b עד דלא ידע - "until he could not discern (between cursed Haman and blessed Mordechai)." This article describing the word's history says it may have been influenced by the Greek Olympiada - their word for the Olympic games, another kind of celebration.

Now to finish, Arnold has been in the news for contrasting himself to a leader who has been widely criticized. However, since this blog is not political, any parallels to the Purim story are entirely coincidental...