Sunday, December 08, 2019


Let's take a look at gir גיר - the Hebrew word for "chalk."

While today that is the primary meaning, it had other meanings in the past. It appears only once in the Bible, in Yeshaya 27:9:

כְּאַבְנֵי־גִר מְנֻפָּצוֹת

The New JPS translates it as "like shattered blocks of chalk," but other translations have "lime" or "limestone."

The Aramaic equivalent, gira גירא, appears in Daniel 5:5, where it is translated as "plaster." And the Arabic cognate, jir, means "gypsum" or "quicklime". All of these words - chalk, lime, gypsum - are calcium based minerals (and plaster is made from them), and so it is understandable how one word (in different languages) could come to refer to all of them.

This is the direction Klein follows in his etymology:

Related to BAram. גִּירָא (= plaster), JAram. גִּירָא (= lime), Syr. גִּירָא (= birdlime), OSArab. גירא (= lime), Tigre gerger (= chalkstone). All these words are ultimately borrowed from Akka. kīru (= chalkstone), which itself is a loan word from Sumerian gir (of s.m.). Arab. jayyār, jīr (= lime), are Aram. loan words.

The Akkadian and Sumerian words also refer to the kilns and ovens used to make lime. From Akkadian the word entered Hebrew again, this time in the form of kor כור - "furnace." For that word Klein writes:

כּוּר m.n. melting pot, furnace (for melting metals). [Related to Aram.-Syr. כּוּרָא, Arab. kūr, Ethiop. kawer, Akka. kūru, kīru (= furnace), and to כִּירַיִם.]

Most people don't use a furnace in their daily lives, but kirayim כיריים - "stove, stove-top" is found in every home.

And one more kitchen feature might have also have the same origin. While Klein provides a different etymology, Elon Gilad in this article says that kiyor כיור - "sink," might have originated as the basin that collected the hot metal from the furnace.

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