[b-hebrew] lexicography

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Sun Nov 16 10:58:19 EST 2003

On Sunday 16 November 2003 02:12, Karl Randolph wrote:
> Julie:
> I started with a copy of Gesenius with regular access to BDB. Of the
> lexemes I looked up, it was very rare that the definitions differed
> substantially in those two dictionaries. In fact, I don’t remember any. 

Logical, since BDB was based on Gesenius and was essentially a revision of 

> The first lesson I learned is that lexemes have one core meaning (unless
> where there are two lexemes with the same pronunciation that have merged,
> like “to” and “two” in English). I found it easiest to learn to use the
> lexemes correctly if I could learn that core definition to recognize how it
> is used, even if it didn’t make sense in English. 

Interesting.  Let's look at one of my favorite English examples.

Strike can mean:
-to hit (strike the rock with your staff)
-to miss (in baseball)
-to start something (strike up the band)
-to stop something (go on strike)

to name just a few.  Here we have one lexeme with at least two meanings, plus 
two more that are polar opposites of the first two.  What exactly is the 
"core definition"?

Another quickie from English:
-my car has BAD tires
-those are some BAD shoes, dude

The former carries negative connotation, the latter positive.

IMNSHO, there's no such thing as an actual "core definition."  Words mean what 
they mean because a society chooses to use them that way.  In America, 
"breakfast" used to mean "a meal taken at a particular time of day."  Now, 
thanks in large measure to Village Inn, it means "a particular group of 
foods."  And so it goes.  To me, looking for some "core definition" rather 
than just examining usage in a given context, makes the task of grasping 
Hebrew (or any other language, for that matter) just that much more 
difficult.  YMMV.

Dave Washburn
Insert clever quote here (or not)

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