Sunday, October 24, 2021

cherry and keres

 I was surprised to learn that the English word "cherry" may have Semitic roots.

The Online Etymology Dictionary has the following entry for cherry:

from Anglo-French cherise, from Old North French cherise (Old French, Modern French cerise, 12c.), from Vulgar Latin *ceresia, from late Greek kerasian "cherry," from Greek kerasos "cherry tree," possibly from a language of Asia Minor. Mistaken in Middle English for a plural and stripped of its -s.

The Etymology Nerd blog has a similar post:

A long time ago, the Akkadians associated the phoneme karsu with the morpheme concerning trees bearing tiny fruits. The rest is history, as the word passed into Anatolian and then Greek (following geographical lines, I might add), as kerasos and specifically applying to the bird cherry tree. This logically created another noun, that of kerasion, or "cherry", as an -ion suffix was affixed. As many Greek words did, this passed into Latin, and as all Greek words with a that pass in to Latin change into a word with a c, as did did kerasion, which became the word cerasium, later ceresium​. In Vulgar Latin, this became ceresia, and in Old Northern French it became cherise (nothing to do with mon cheri). This then became a loanword as it crossed the English channel to become cherise, and here people began to use it daily until someone along the line "realized" that this was a plural, and that was incorrect, so that person decided to abridge it to something like cherri, which became cherry in due course.

Both note that the "s" was dropped when the word entered English from French due to a mistaken assumption that word was plural. (The same thing happened with the word pea.) That's a fun fact, but I'm more interested in the Akkadian etymology. Klein, in his CEDEL, provides a little more information. After tracing the word to the Greek like the sources above, he adds:

which probably derives from Akkadian karshu, 'stone fruit'

This piqued my curiosity. While many words in Akkadian have cognates in Hebrew (or Aramaic), Klein didn't offer one here. I tried looking up karsu, karshu or karashu in Akkadian dictionaries, but none explicitly gave a meaning of "stone fruit." 

However, there were other meanings that could provide a connection. One meaning of karasu in Akkadian is listed as "stone." For example, this Akkadian dictionary has an entry for karašu with these meanings:

1) a leek (cultivated, or wild in mountains) ; 2) (a kind of stone)

The meaning "leek" isn't so surprising. We've already discussed before the Hebrew word kreisha כרשה and the Aramaic word karti כרתי - both meaning "leek", and having karashu as a cognate seems logical. But what is the connection between leeks and stones?  

The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (CAD) has a far more detailed entry. In their entry for karašu (page 212) they first define it as "leek", then

in descriptions of stones … the stone whose color is green like leeks

And later there is mention of stones. While it is possible that this became the "stone" of stone fruits, it seems less likely to me, and is also rejected by "Rosół and Blažek" according to the Wiktionary entry for the Greek kerasos.

To me, a more likely candidate would be a different meaning of the Akkadian word. According to the CAD, karšu (page 223) can mean

1. stomach, belly, womb, body
2. mind, heart, plan, desire
3. inner or lower side
While there is no mention of stone fruits, or fruits at all, in their entry, it seems reasonable to me that the word could have been borrowed for stone fruits specifically (considering that the stone is inside the fruit, as if in the belly), or perhaps fruit in general (metaphorically the produce of the womb). 

If this is the case, there is a cognate with a Hebrew word: keres, also meaning "belly." It appears in Biblical Hebrew only once, with the spelling כרש, in Yirmiyahu 51:34:

 מִלָּא כְרֵשׂוֹ מֵעֲדָנָי

He filled his belly with my dainties

However, the word keres became more common in Rabbinic Hebrew, where the spelling changed to כרס. Klein confirms the cognate with Akkadian:

belly (a hapax legomenon in the Bible, occurring Jer. 51:34). In PBH spelled כָּרֵס (q.v.). [Related to Aram.-Syr. כַּרְסָא (= belly), Arab. karish, kirsh, Ethiop. karsh (= stomach, belly), Akka. karshu, karashu (= belly).] 

It does surprise me that he doesn't connect the entry for keres with his entry for "cherry", but I don't think that necessarily means he didn't connect them. In any case, the next time I fill my keres with cherries, I'll be sure to think of the etymological connection.

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