Volume 50 Number 30
                    Produced: Tue Nov 29  6:23:53 EST 2005

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Hebrew and English Words
         [Nathan Lamm]
Hebrew source of English words (3)
         [Yehoshua Steinberg, Ira L. Jacobson, Yehoshua Steinberg]


From: Nathan Lamm <nelamm18@...>
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2005 06:04:38 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Hebrew and English Words

Yehoshua Steinberg writes:

> "Hollow...Hallow...I would propose a collection be taken up to buy
> them a Bible, and if necessary to pay for the overtime needed to pay
> for the effort in opening respectively to e.g. Deut. 21:1 ("challal" -
> corpse [devoid of life and hollow], Is. 53:5 ("mechulal" - pierced);
> ( Lev. 19:24 ("hillulim" - praise) or II Sam. 14:25 ("lehallel" - to
> praise)."

I hope you are not trying to relate the two. One, of course, has a Het
and one a Heh. Furthermore, neither English word has the extra
lamed. Finally, I fail to see how "praise" becomes "hallow."

In any event, your criticism of the American Heritage's editors is quite
misplaced. That dictionary above all others has begun to give serious
weight to Semitic roots of English words. After pioneering the use of an
Indo-European appendix that lists all roots in their earlier
dictionaries, they now, in their latest edition, have added a Semitic
appendix as well.  If they, of all people, don't see Semitic roots, I
won't second guess them.

Of course, there are the Eurasiatic and even wider Nostratic theories to
deal with, which posit a common origin for both these families as well
as others. Some linguists claim to find common roots in almost all world
languages, and even those who don't see these claims as having a solid
basis admit that they have at least a good theoretical base, as all
humans (even according to secular biology) are descended from a small
group (or even one pair) of people from Africa.

None of this, however, should be confused with a baseless (either
linguistically or religiously) claim that "all languages come from


From: Yehoshua Steinberg <ysteinberg@...>
Date: Fri, 25 Nov 2005 11:44:56 -0500
Subject: RE: Hebrew source of English words

From: Warren Burstein <warren@...>
>Yehoshua Steinberg finds it unreasonable that linguists trace the
>Mod. Eng. "ashamed" to the OE sceamod...

>Granted, the OE word itself could have come about by dropping the "a"
>from the Heb. Asham, but as Mod. Eng. has its sources in OE, Greek,
>Latin, and Old French (I hope it is not being claimed that Mod. Eng. was
>created directly from Hebrew without these posited intermediate steps) I
>would suggest that future research into Hebrew roots be done in these

Sorry if I didn't make my point clearly. My gripe is not with tracing
words to earlier roots in related languages, but to *ignoring* other
possible influences as well. To wit, the standard dictionaries do
attribute obvious Hebrew influences such as "behemoth" and "amen"
correctly to biblical sources. The editors don't limit themselves to
direct geographical influences (e.g. Middle, Old English), but go back
furthr to Greek, Latin, Indo-European. Why not Biblical Hebrew? Is it
really so unreasonable that the Bible would have influenced Western
languages? Is laziness the cause for the omission or some other reason?

From: <Smwise3@...> (S. Wise)
>I know that the English word cinnamon dervies from the Hebrew qinnamon,
>but years ago a non-frum Jew told me the word copasetic is a corruption
>of "ha-kol b'seder." I have read that he word may dervie from Hebrew --
>but also Italian and French. Also, I once hear someone say that Boss
>comes from Baal Habayis, but while in meaning they seem to relate, I
>understand the word is of greek origin.

I don't know if every single word or phrase can be traced to biblical
sources, and I certainly don't think it's a tenet of faith to believe so.
But there are many common-sense examples that often come up and my
question is simply why the linguistic establishment so *consistently*
ignores them.

From: Russell J Hendel <rjhendel@...>
>Just thought I would give another interpretation of HEBREW IS THE
>the postings have been discussing it the FORMAL words of say English are
>seen as coming possibly from the FORMAL words of Hebrew.

>However we can also interpret this statement to refer to CONTENT.  e.g.
>The word ISHAH etymologically comes from ISH (See Gn02). This etymology
>REFLECTS the fact that MEN and WOMEN both are HUMAN and differs from
>other languages where the word for female comes from a word meaning
>WEAK.  So the etymology reflects the human rights of the male and

This is how Hirsch interprets this phenomenon, but I've always been
perplexed as to why, to be honest. Even more of a mystery is why Chazal
say that the world was created in the Holy Tongue based on this

One hint may be the expression used in Chazal: lashon nofel al lashon
(words in the Holy Tongue are inter-related). Another place this appears
is in the story of the serpant Moses was bidden to erect to heal those
who were bitten (Num. 21:9). He fashioned it out of copper based on the
fact that "nachash" (serpent) and "nechoshes" (copper) share a root.
Chazal say here as well that this indicates that the Torah was given in
the Holy Tongue and that the world was created with the Holy Tongue.

This example is especially signficant because here Moses was actually
prompted to *action* based on his belief of the inter-relationship
between seemingly disparate words stemming from similar root,
i.e. "lashon nofel al lashon" has now been upgraded from theory to
practice, or in Yeshivish, there's a real-life "nafka mina." Lives
literally depended on Moses' actions, and he made this lfe-and-death
decision based solely on linguistic considerations.

I think this may shed light on the significance of the "ish"-"isha"
relationship. Why does these words grant such status to Hebrew over say
the English "man"-"woman"? And despite the fact that you say that
"female" implies weakness, in what way would that make the language
inferior? Further, who's to say "isha" doesn't imply weakness as well?
In any case, what's wrong with weakness and what does it have to do with
whether G-d created the Torah and the world with Hebrew? Doesn't He have
a right to create some creatures strong and other weak and to imply that
in the names if He wishes?

But based on the "nachash"-"nechoshes" model, it would seem that we are
being taught that likewise in this case, there is an underlying root
common to both words which perforce indicate a relationship. The common
root is found in R. Akiva's famous statement in Sota 17a: "ish veisha,
zacho, Shechina beineihem. Lo zachu, eish ochlasan" (a man and woman who
are worthy will merit having the Divine presence dwell in their
midst. If they are unworthy, however - fire consumes them). Rashi says
that removing the extraneous "aleph" and "heh" yields "eish," the root
of both words.

The world, left to its druthers, would revert to it's default:
formlessness and destruction. Relationships are the same way. The
relationship between man and woman -- which actually mimicks G-d's
creation of the universe in generating new life -- is in no less danger
self-destruction than G-d's universe. Insert holiness into the
relationship and you have perpetuated life. Subtract it, you are left
with the default.

This explains the the Midrash in Gen. Rabba 18:6. Chazal may not have
known English, but they knew that there were close words in other
languages as well: "gen" and "genia", "intropi," "intropa," "gavra,"
"gvirta." But the closeness of the words means nothing; *teaches*
nothing. In contrast, the underlying root in Hebrew teaches us nothing
less than the foundations of life and creation. Furthermore, it carries
with it an urgent responsibility: work on this realtionship, welcome the
Creator into it, and merit life.

And yes, this does imply equality of the highest order: the ability to
sore to spiritual heights is impossible alone, without this
relationship.  The Divine lesson is imbedded in the depths of the
language. Learn it, and you will discover nothing short of G-d's wisdom.

>Here is a second example: The root Cheth-Beth-Lamed means both ROPE and
>LOAN SECURITY. Thus the language etymology reflects the anguish of the
>person making the loan in that "stings" are attached to the loan
>'binding' him and making him dependent on the lender.

You've got that right, but don't forget "chevlei leida" and "chevlei
maves" (see e.g. Hirsch on Ps. 7:15, 18:5).

>Here is a 3rd example:Two words for sex in (Biblical ) Hebrew are either
>Ayin-Gimel-Beth which also means flute(or someother instrument) or
>Aleph-Hay-Beth-Yud-Mem(Plural of the word love). These etymologies
>reflect certain desirable aspects of sex which are sometimes overlooked:
>a) emphasis on the softer aspects of the relationship b) the need for
>both parties to participate (plural of love). By contrast a 3rd word for
>sex, Beth-Ayin-Lamed, also meaning ownership, emphasizes male aggression
>and conquest. However this 3rd word is considered perjorative in Hebrew
>(Cf. verse in Hosea...'I(God) will be called your(Israel's) man and not
>be called your owner.').

Yes, but the meaning of ayin-gimel-bet is also primarily pejorative (see
Rashi on Job 21:12). In fact, I find it interesting that the biblical
words for musical instruments seem to have negative secondary (if not
primary) meanings. "Agavot": buttocks; "Nevel": scandal, and "min" (as
in "minim veugav" [Ps. 150:4]), which in Rabbinic Hebrew denotes
idolatry (in modern Hebrew it simply means "sex," but I'm not sure how
Ben-Yehuda or whoever, came up with that one, unless it's based on the
targum of "min"/kind, which is "zan," the same root that's used in
Hebrew for promiscuity). My theory FWIW, is that the message is that one
must be very careful with music, because as with many other things, it
has a negative flip-side which can easily lead to immorality.

>Notice how the emphasis on concepts vs form leads to philsophical
>discussion and lessons learned. Finally acknowledgement should be given
>to Rav Hirsch who championed this point of view in his commentary

I am with you there! I think he is perhaps the most misunderstood and
under-rated of any commentator, whose genius is desperately needed in
our generation. And yes, this includes his etymology, upon which his
philosophy to a great extent rested. As with most other things, people
see isolated examples which seem to them far-fetched and throw the baby
out with the bathwater. I prefer to see the bath as half-full even
without the baby in it; Hirsch deserves at least that much credit. But
if Chazal's profound genius as expressed in such drashos as "al tikrei"
are casually dismissed as primitive or as plays on words, why should we
expect more for the great Rav Hirsch?

Yehoshua Steinberg <ysteinberg@...>

From: Ira L. Jacobson <laser@...>
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2005 16:21:40 +0200
Subject: Re: Hebrew source of English words

Regarding word derivations, as discussed here on Mail-Jewish lately, I
think it worthwhile to consider the opinion of a modern expert in
linguistics, who stated:

      In linguistics, derivation is the process derivation of
      phrases of creating new lexemes from other lexemes, for hardy
      weinberg derivation example, wired + slang + derivation by
      adding a derivational affix.

      Derivational affixes do not necessarily modify the syntactic
      category; standard linear model derivation viscoelasticity
      they can also modify the cq definition derivation meaning.
      For example, surname derivations the derivational prefix un-
      applies to adjectives (healthy achilles heel derivation
      golightly surname derivation of the term unhealthy), although
      it also occasionally brayton cycle efficiency derivation of
      the name steele derivation applies to nouns and verbs. In
      many cases, derivational derivations affixes brayton cycle
      efficiency with regeneration its derivation change both the
      syntactic category and cabal derivation the meaning: modern
      modernize ("to make brown color derivations modern").

Until we can come to grips with the basics stated here, we must do some
serious contemplation.  See

IRA L. JACOBSON         

From: Yehoshua Steinberg <ysteinberg@...>
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2005 16:42:29 -0500
Subject: RE: Hebrew source of English words

From: Nathan Lamm <nelamm18@...>

>Modern English derived directly from Middle English,

I'm with you up to this point.

>with no Hebrew influence.

Who says? That's your prejudice.

>It came from the masses, not the clergy (who, in any event,
>spoke Latin, not Hebrew).

Who says? The medieval monks were far greater biblical Hebrew scholars
than many Jews were and are, unfortunately. Just visit any of the
semitic libraries in the major European cities and see what manuscripts
they studied and commented on. And their influence on the societies in
which they lived should never be underestimated.

>And there were no Jews in England at the time.

Irrelevant. The influences could have filtered in through other European
languages or from the local clergy, as above.

>Latin was well developed by the Romans well before there was
>any contact with Jews (who, at the time, spoke Aramaic anyway).

Correct me if I'm wrong, but 97% of the Bible is written in Hebrew. What
difference does it may what the spoken language was? And in any case,
before the Babylonian exile they did speak Hebrew.

>-The vast majority of etymologies you'd see in a dictionary are not
>guesses, or even educated guesses.  They are certainly not motivated by
>some mythical 19th-Century German anti-Semitic plot of lexiographers.

And that's a mythical paraphrase - the point being made was that these
new 19th-century sciences were largely conceived and developed by
secularists who consciously or otherwise may well have sought to divest
their languages of any apparent Biblical influences just as they sought
to rid themselves of the clerics.

>common sense: "Upshot" is clearly composed of two English words, "up"
>and "shot." I sincerely hope that the poster who suggested the word
>"peshat" as an origin was joking, but such "derivations" are common in
>claims such as these.

I don't know about such claims being "common," but we are in agreement
about common sense, so here's an example of that sort IMHO. Our buddies
at American Heritage trace "hole" way back to:

Middle English, from Old English hol

I wonder how long the editors spent discussing whether the biblical
"challal" etc.  may have been somehow related.

> I'm now sorely tempted to throw it into the trash.

That still won't help explain why the etymologists so consistently
ignore possible influences from the most widely available text in the

Yehoshua Steinberg <ysteinberg@...>


End of Volume 50 Issue 30