Tuesday, July 06, 2021

dfus, tofes and tipus

As I've written before, I'm a major podcast listener, and am always looking for podcasts that discuss language, particularly the Hebrew language.

Recently, I came across a podcast devoted to the nuts and bolts of the Hebrew language, called Kululusha. It's in Hebrew, and the host, Yiram Netanyahu (no relation), interviews experts on Hebrew language and linguistics, including some people I've quoted here frequently. 

In the latest episode, he had a conversation with the linguist Dr. Gabriel Birnbaum, about the influence of foreign words on Hebrew. It was a very interesting discussion, and I recommend that any of you who can follow a talk like that in Hebrew to listen. 

A lot of the foreign words that Dr. Birnbaum mentioned will be familiar to readers of Balashon. But there was one that he mentioned briefly that I've been meaning to write about for a while - the Greek typos. As noted in the podcast, that one Greek word gave us three distinct words in Hebrew: dfus דפוס, tofes טופס and tifus טיפוס. Let's take a look.

The Greek word typos is the origin of the English word "type":

late 15c., "symbol, emblem," from Latin typus "figure, image, form, kind," from Greek typos "a blow, dent, impression, mark, effect of a blow; figure in relief, image, statue; anything wrought of metal or stone; general form, character; outline, sketch," from root of typtein "to strike, beat," from PIE *tup-, variant of root *(s)teu- (1) "to push, stick, knock, beat" (see steep (adj.)).

Extended 1713 to printing blocks of metal or wood with letters or characters carved on their faces, usually in relief, adapted for use in letterpress printing. The meaning "general form or character of some kind, class" is attested in English by 1843, though the corresponding words had that sense in Latin and Greek. 

As in English, the Greek typos had both the the sense of "to strike" and "a form, kind." (I would not have guessed, as I type on my keyboard, that the earlier meaning was to "to strike.") The Hebrew words reflect those different meanings as well.

Dfus is closest to the sense of a "dent, impression". It is found in early Rabbinic Hebrew, such as Mishna Menachot 11:1, where it refers to a baking mold that was used to prepare the offering of the shtei halechem (the two loaves of bread), brought on Shavuot. While many editions of the Talmud have the word written in the form familiar today - dfus דפוס, other manuscripts preserve what is likely the original spelling - tfus טפוס. The letters "t" and "d" both produce dental stop sounds, and just saying them out loud makes it understandable how tfus became dfus. After the Talmudic meanings of "form, model, mold", in modern Hebrew dfus took on the sense of "print, printing, press." The related verb, hidpis הדפיס means "to print" and a madpeset מדפסת is a "printer."

Tofes טפס, in Talmudic Hebrew, meant the standard, boilerplate lines in a document (in contrast with the toref תורף, which refers to the specific details of that document, like the dates, names, etc.) Today it means any kind of form to be filled out.

Tipus is the most abstract of the three, meaning "type, kind, class." In modern Hebrew, the adjective tipusi טיפוסי - "typical" (which also derives from typos) was added. In Hebrew slang, a tipus is an unusual character. 

Curious about the Hebrew word for the verb, "to type"? Then keep an eye out for the next post...

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