Thursday, November 18, 2021

cucumber and kishu

In 2007, we discussed the Hebrew word for "cucumber", melafefon מלפפון. In the end of the post, I quoted an article that stated:

the melafefon in the Talmud is a melon, and the cucumber should be called by its Biblical name - kishu קישוא (from Bamidbar 11:5 - זָכַרְנוּ, אֶת-הַדָּגָה, אֲשֶׁר-נֹאכַל בְּמִצְרַיִם, חִנָּם; אֵת הַקִּשֻּׁאִים, וְאֵת הָאֲבַטִּחִים, וְאֶת-הֶחָצִיר וְאֶת-הַבְּצָלִים, וְאֶת-הַשּׁוּמִים. "We remember the ... cucumbers (kishuim) ... that we ate in Egypt") and what we today call kishu (zucchini squash) ... should be called kishot קישות or kishu-bishul קישוא-בישול.

While that recommendation was not adopted by Hebrew speakers, I recently discovered a theory that connects kishu and "cucumber." 

I actually could have noticed it when I wrote my earlier post, since Klein mentions it in his entry for kishu:

1 cucumber (a hapax legomenon in the Bible, occurring Num. 11:5). 2 gourd, vegetable marrow. [Related to MH קָשׁוּת, Syr. קַשׁוּתָא, Punic kissou, Arab. quththā, qiththa, Ethiop. pl. qesāt, Akka. qishshu (= cucumber). Gk. sikuos (= cucumber) is a Heb. loan word. See ‘Sicyos’ in my CEDEL.]

However, even if I had noticed that the Greek sikuos is a Hebrew loan word, I didn't have his CEDEL dictionary at the time, so I couldn't have picked up the trail. Here's what he writes for "Sicyos", the genus of plants that includes the burr cucumbers:

Modern Latin, from Greek sikuos, 'cucumber', which [...] is borrowed from Hebrew *qishshu'ah (plural qishshu'im

He then points to his entry for "cucumber." The Online Etymology Dictionary includes some of his findings:

late 14c., cucomer, from Old French cocombre (13c., Modern French concombre), from Latin cucumerem (nominative cucumis), perhaps from a pre-Italic Mediterranean language.

But Klein goes further. He says that the Latin comes from Greek, which eventually connects to Hebrew. He writes that the Latin cucumis is

from Greek kukuos, assimilated from sikuos, 'cucumber', a collateral form of sikuh, of same meaning, which was probably formed through metathesis from Hebrew qishshu'ah, 'cucumber'.

Recalling that the Greeks pronounced the Hebrew sh as s (think Shlomo / Solomon), we can see how kishu could become sikuh. And from there, the path to cucumber is certainly possible (see the same theory  mentioned here as well). I wonder what additional insights I'll have when I look at this post 14 years from now...


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