Sunday, November 24, 2019


A reader asked about two words: nagar נגר and rahit רהיט. He points out an interesting similarity between the two. Both appear to derive from roots which have some some association with carpentry and with flowing. Is there some common justification for this, or is it just a coincidence?

We've already discussed rahit here - and the investigation was inconclusive. But what about nagar?

According to Klein, nagar meaning "carpenter" derives from the Akkadian naggaru, and Sokoloff goes even further back to the Sumerian nagar - all of the same meaning. It first appears in Rabbinic Hebrew.

However, the verb נגר - "to pour, flow, run" has a different origin. It appears in the Bible, and according to Klein, it is related to the root גרר - "to drag, tow, draw." Unlike nagar the carpenter, in this root the letter nun isn't radical. In Hebrew it was added on, and in other Semitic languages, it doesn't appear, like in Akkadian gararu and Arabic jarra (which would make it possibly related to the word Madrid, as we discussed recently.)

One related word is megerah מגרה - "drawer", which is "drawn out." A homonym of megerah meaning "drawer" is the older, biblical, megerah - which means "saw", the tool used for cutting, dragging the blade across the wood.

The fact that this tool was likely used by a carpenter must have caused some people to assume a connection between the two roots. As I said above, the Akkadian and Sumerian derivation of nagar - carpenter is very well established. And yet a theory connecting megerah and nagar pops up in a surprising number of recent sources, including the Even-Shoshan dictionary (in the entry for נַגָּר), Wikimilon, and even Klein himself, despite having provided the Akkadian etymology. I guess sometimes it's hard to root out outdated etymologies.

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