Allegorical Nonsense

An allegory. Nonsense. Put them together. Okay, not really.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Some Hebrew linguistic questions

Some questions for any adventurous Hebrew linguists out there:

1. Where does מו come from, as in במו עיניי ("before my very eyes")? Is it related to עצמו in any way? I would presume not, as I presume עצמו comes from עצם ("bone") even if I fail to see the semantic connection.

2. Where the hell does אדרבה ("on the contrary") come from? Sounds very Aramaic to me. Unless it's "until 4:00" ...

3. Something about למחוא כפיים ("to applaud", literally "to strike two palms") always seemed weird to me. Shouldn't למחוא by itself be enough? Can you do anything else with כפיים other than למחוא them?

4. In מלכתחילה ("from the beginning"), where the hell does the כ come from? A ה I could understand, but a כ?

I'm full of such questions. These are but a few that I have managed to spew out at this ungodly hour. While we're at it, why is it "ungodly hour" and "untimely death" and not the other way around? Okay, that's not a real question - feel free to ignore it.



At 7:55 PM, Blogger Simon Holloway said...

1. I am not familiar with this expression, but במו is an archaic way of saying בו ,בם or בהם. The מו- suffix is the 3rd person singular/plural accusative suffix in other words. Very common in Biblical Hebrew poetry, eg: Ex 15:5, Deut 32:23. The expression that you are relating is undoubtedly a petrified expression in Israeli Hebrew.

2. אדרבה is indeed an Aramaic word! It may have been specifically Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic (BTA), but only because I don't have a reference existing for it anywhere else. As a verb it means to "turn to the stronger side" (acc. to Jastrow) but as a noun it forms a clause: "on the contrary..." It is believed to be a contraction for על דרבה, hence the dagesh in the daled.

3. למחוא by itself is of the root √מחא which means "whip" or "strike". It can also mean "plague". Totally irrelevant to your question, but what can you do. Sue me.

4. Good question, I also don't know why there is a כ there, but it is another BTA expression and so a ה wouldn't make any sense. The מ prefix at the beginning denotes a fuller form of the expression (which is the opposite of בדיעבד, or just דיעבד) and the לכ seems to be serving the role of an accusative of place?? No idea. For a phonological answer, check out Jen's blog.

At 8:24 PM, Blogger Simon Holloway said...

Oh, one more thing:
In relation to number 2, the etymology that I proposed for אדרבה is assumed by (certain) scholars. You would still need to explain why the ע suddenly became an א.

At 2:46 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

First of all, well answered - I sensed that questions like these to this blog's "readership" would be like a splodge of honey on the kitchen bench to ants.

Who is this "Jastrow", by the way? He gets a lot of air-time on Balashon (together with Klein and others). And where does Jen talk about phonology? And what does דרבה mean in Aramaic? Oh, and in relation to (3), the כתב תביעה is in the mail.

At 2:48 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Oh, and check out Love Davka - I wrote a post last night about the quintessential living-in-Tel Aviv moment. I thought it was pretty funny. Okay, maybe that's just me.

At 7:43 PM, Blogger Simon Holloway said...

Marcus Jastrow was the author of a dictionary of Aramaic, sometime around 1904. It is only supposed to be a dictionary of Rabbinic Aramaic (Palestinian Jewish Aramaic, Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic, etc) so it hasn't really been rendered obsolete by all the amazing finds of the 20th century. But he's a bit odd. He tries to find a Semitic root for every single word, even when the word is obviously of Greek origin.

In Aramaic, ד is the preformative relative particle (like ש in Hebrew). דרבה means "of the great" effectively.

At 10:37 AM, Blogger moo said...

I had assumed the כ in לכתחילה (which in Rabbinics usually means "ideally" or "in the first instance") was what כ rtusually does: "like" or "as". But it is strange in its appearance after the ל... I guess a literal translation here might be "for as in the initial".

At 11:12 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Moo - can you think of any other words which do the same?


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