tohu vabohu (was: Re: new subscriber)

Dave Washburn dwashbur at
Tue Nov 30 12:19:19 EST 1999

> Another thought on "tohu webohu", espcially as the second word occurs 
> only in close relationship with the first. In Azerbaijani, I think in 
> Farsi, and also in Russian as spoken in Azerbaijan, there is a common 
> colloquial idiom in which a word is repeated with its first consonant 
> replaced by "m" on the second occurrence, with the meaning "and that 
> sort of thing". The second word is thus actually a nonsense word if 
> taken separately. For example, "harj" means "disorder" (weakened in 
> Arabic from the Hebrew HRG = "kill"), and "harj-marj" means "time of 
> disorder, chaos, anarchy"; and I heard "Andrey-mandrei" meaning 
> "Andrei and people like him".
> Could it be that this sort of thing, which can easily spread from 
> language to language as I have seen, may be happening with "b" 
> (another bilabial consonant) rather than "m" in Hebrew? This would 
> make "bohu" actually a nonsense word, and the hendiadys "tohu webohu" 
> would be a close equivalent of "harj-marj".

This is a fascinating idea!  I wonder if we can come up with some 
similar pairs in Hebrew to test it?  It reminds me of the colloquial 
American brush-off phrase with "shm," as in e.g. "What's the boss 
going to think of that?"  "Boss, Shmoss, I'm doing it anyway."  In 
such a case, would you suggest a translation of tohu webohu as 
something like "It was pretty much a chaotic mess"?  (To again 
resort to colloquialism...)

Dave Washburn
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.
                                   Psalm 86:11

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