Monday, August 17, 2020

kash and kashish

 A reader asked if there was a connection between the verb קשש - "to gather", and kashish קשיש - "elderly."  I didn't think it was likely, but according to Klein's etymologies, they are related.

Klein writes that the root קשש means "to gather, assemble (especially straw or stubble.)" We find this root in the story of the מקושש עצים mekoshesh etzim - "the stick gatherer" (Bamidbar 15:32-36), as well as the description of the Israelite slaves "gathering stubble [kash] for straw [teven]"   לְקֹשֵׁשׁ קַשׁ לַתֶּבֶן (Shemot 5:12).

Klein provides this etymology:

Related to Syriac קַשׁ, Arab. qashsha (= he collected, gathered). The original meaning probably was ‘to become dry’. Compare. Arab. qashsha in the sense ‘became dry, dried up, shriveled up, withered’.

He writes that this is the root of kash קש - "straw."  In modern Hebrew, as in English, kash refers to both straw as "dried stalks of grain" and "a thin, hollow tube for drinking." The latter (the drinking straw), however, is often called a kashit קשית.

Klein then goes on to say that the root קשש can also mean "to grow old", and comes from the earlier sense "to become dry, wither, fade." This gives us the word kashish - "old, elderly." 

Ben-Yehuda, however, says that perhaps kashish comes from the root קשה kasheh - "hard." So instead of an elderly person being like someone who has withered and faded, this kashish has been hardened, and strengthened, by the challenges of life. This is also the approach of Jastrow, who brings support from Shabbat 53a, where it says that animals can go out into the public domain on Shabbat with "splints" keshishin. These splints were meant to straighten the fracture, to make it stiff (kasheh).

But kashish itself doesn't actually mean "elderly" in its first appearances in Rabbinic Hebrew, just "older." So an older brother is referred to as kashish (Targum to Melachim I 2:22) even though he wasn't older. 

But in today's Hebrew it doesn't have that meaning, and "older than" is usually mevugar מבוגר. And kashish is specifically someone elderly. (This is similar to the English word "senior," which first meant "older" and then "elderly.") But even though kashish means elderly today, each of us, as we get older, can decide whether that will mean "withering away" or "becoming strengthened."

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