[b-hebrew] etymological fallacy and the meaning of almah

Isaac Fried if at math.bu.edu
Wed Aug 1 00:44:13 EDT 2007


Kenneth,

To clarify where I stand on this issue I will put my best foot first  
to frankly express my unequivocal opinion that what is being advanced  
here as the etymology of the Hebrew word (ALMAH is gross nonsense,  
based primarily on a thorough misunderstanding of the internal logic  
of the Hebrew language. In their defense I must say that what the  
advocates are pushing is not their own invention but is lifted from  
some venerable authorities considered the ultimate experts on the  
Hebrew language.
The etymology of Indo-European is the study of the percolation and  
distortion of its words through time, culture and territory, and the  
derivation of some distinct words from a common, simpler and more  
concrete origin [getting the "meaning" of] such as 'shoe' and 'sky'  
from the basic idea of 'cover'. Many of these investigations quickly  
come to a dead end as the parent language with its root system and  
natural grammar is demolished, ruined and lost long and for good.
The etymology of the Hebrew language is an entirely different  
discipline. In contrast with the Indo-European languages Hebrew is  
still left with an intact root system and a fully preserved natural  
grammar. Every Hebrew word can be traced back to a root of concrete  
basic meaning.
See http://www.hebrewetymology.com/
The two deadly sins of the Hebrew etymological fallacy are: 1.  
Endowing a root with an abstract meaning, and 2. Seeking a  
relationship between different words derived from the same root.
1. The root (LM, which is a variant of (LP and (LT, essentially means  
'tall and massive'. The act (ALAM derived from it means 'tower over,  
loom over, cover', and then by implication 'hide from view', and then  
by further inference 'be unknown'. The word (ELEM, 'tall and massive  
boy, young man' is a direct independent derivation from the same  
root, and so is (OLAM.
2. Every Hebrew authority derides the hypothetically attempted  
relationship between MALAX, 'seaman' [see Ezekiel 27:29] and MELAX,  
'salt', of 'a man plying the salty seas', but then some go on to  
present same such idiotic etymologies of their own. Look at this  
example of a patently silly etymology caused by seeking a  
relationship between congruent words.  From the root XSD,  
'substantial', Hebrew derives the words XASID, 'pious' [the 'I' in  
XASID is the personal pronoun HI inserted to indicate that 'he has  
the property expressed by the root XSD'], and XESED, 'benevolence,  
charity'. Then out of the blue Hebrew generates from this same root  
also the bird name XASIDAH [see Job 39:13]. Heinrich Friedrich  
Wilhelm Gesenius is not confounded one little minute by this sudden  
and unexpected turn of events but knows to explain to us that this is  
indeed a pious bird [did he forget about pious snakes, scorpions,  
killer bees, fire ants, piranha fish, etc?] "so called from its love  
towards its parents and its young". About the bird [of pray?] RAXAM  
[see Leviticus 11:18] he says again that it is "so called from its  
affection [RAMAMIM] towards its young". By this logic Jack the Ripper  
should have been be known to his Hebrew friends as Raxmo Raxamimo for  
his affection towards his cat.
On the relationship between REXEM, 'womb' and RAXAMIM, 'mercy,  
compassion, clemency' Gesenius is sadly mum.

Isaac Fried, Boston University

On Jul 30, 2007, at 9:48 PM, kenneth greifer wrote:

> Recently, someone on b-hebrew said that almah meant virgin because  
> its root
> comes from a verb that means to be hidden , and virgins were  
> hidden. What
> about the word olam ? Does it also come from "hidden"?
>
> Also, I read on an internet site that there is something called an
> etymological fallacy  http://www.fallacyfiles.org/etymolog.html
>
> How do you know if the idea that almah means virgin because its  
> root means
> "hidden" is an etymological fallacy? I never even heard of  
> etymological
> fallacy until a few hours ago, so I really don't know much about it.
>
> Kenneth Greifer
>
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