Monday, December 23, 2019

gizbar and geniza

Let's take a look at two Hebrew words: gizbar גזבר and geniza גניזה. They're actually related, and have a similar story.

Geniza is familiar to many of us a place to dispose of sacred books and papers, so they won't be simply tossed in the trash. The most famous was the Cairo Geniza, where hundreds of thousands of Jewish documents were found, some over 1000 years old. But before geniza had that specific meaning, it meant "storage" or "hiding." It derives from the root גנז, which appears a few times in the later books of the Bible (Esther, Yechezkel and Divrei Hayamim), with the meaning "to hide, conceal, store away."  Klein says it ultimately comes from the Persian words ganz(a) and ganj, meaning "treasure."

Gizbar means "treasurer", and comes from the same root. It also appears in a late Biblical book - Ezra. Klein provides this etymology:

Together with JAram. גִּזְבָּרָא, Syr. גֵּזַבְרָא, גִּיזַבֽרָא (= treasurer), Mand. גאנזיברא (= high priest), borrowed from Pers. ganzabara (= treasurer), from ganj̄ (= treasure)

The bara of ganzbara is cognate with the English word "bear" meaning "to carry", so the gizbar is one who carries (= is responsible for) the treasure (or treasury).

The Persian ganz may have made its way into a couple of English words as well.

There are many theories as to the etymology of the word "gazette", meaning a newspaper. One theory says that it comes from the Latin word gaza, which meant "treasury", so that a gazette is a little treasury of news. The Latin gaza derived from the Greek gaza, which in turn came from the Persian root ganza, all meaning "treasure." A different theory says that the cost of the newspaper was a "gazeta" - a half penny, and the coin was a diminutive of the Latin gaza, so it meant "of small value" (literally "a little treasure"). And as we saw, gaza can be traced back to the Persian ganza.

The cold Spanish soup "gazpacho" might also have the same origin. One suggested etymology is:

From Spanish gazpacho, perhaps via Mozarabic *gazpelağo from Latin gazophylacium (“treasure-chest in a church”), alluding to the diversity of its contents.

That's quite a treasure of etymologies!

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