Monday, June 28, 2021


The English word tripe has two definitions:

1 : stomach tissue especially of a ruminant (such as an ox) used as food
2 : something poor, worthless, or offensive

For me, the second definition was more familiar than the first - but that may be because I don't eat red meat.

The Online Etymology Dictionary provides this origin for tripe:

c. 1300, from Old French tripe "guts, intestines, entrails used as food" (13c.), of unknown origin, perhaps via Spanish tripa from Arabic therb "suet" [Klein, Barnhart]. Applied contemptuously to persons (1590s), then to anything considered worthless, foolish, or offensive (1892).

This book gives it a similar etymology, saying it comes from the Arabic tharb, meaning a "thin layer of fat lining the intestines."

I haven't seen explicit proof, but I think tharb as "fat" may be cognate with the Hebrew root רבב, meaning "to become many, much, great." As we saw in our discussion of ribah, Klein notes that the related Arabic verb rabba means "to make thick or dense." 

The Arabic-English Lexicon, in its entry for the related Arabic verb taraba, says that it originally meant "the removing of the tharb, i.e. the fat that forms the integument of the stomach of a ruminant", and then associatively became "the act of blaming, reproving, and punishing or chastising for an offence or a crime."  As we noted in the entry for the Hebrew word chitui, sometimes a verb that derives from a noun refers to the removal of that noun. In this case, the verb taraba meant the removal of the tharb

While the fat itself might have had a positive association, the noun tharb also took on the negative sense of "blame, reproof, reproach." This may be the reason that Muhammad changed the name of the Arabian city Yathrib to Medina, as we mentioned in our discussion of the Hebrew word medina.

** Update:

Thank you to reader Shalom for pointing this out:

The Aramaic translation of the Biblical חלב (fat) is תרב.
He then shared Jastrow's entry for תרב, which gives examples of terav being used as a translation for chelev, and also provides a cognate with the Hebrew root רב, "to increase."

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