[b-hebrew] etymological fallacy and the meaning of almah
enkidu at bigpond.net.au
Mon Jul 30 23:24:54 EDT 2007
On 31/07/2007, at 11:48 AM, kenneth greifer wrote:
> 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
> fallacy until a few hours ago, so I really don't know much about it.
You would commit the etymological fallacy if you defined a word based
on etymology in such a way that you override other indicators of
meaning such as context. You don't have to look far in most languages
to see that etymology is frequently quite misleading (the word "nice"
is frequently cited as a good English example, because if we were to
follow etymology we would assign to it the meaning "stupid, ignorant").
Unfortunately with "dead" languages there are often words so poorly
attested that etymology becomes one of the few means at our disposal
for determining meaning. However, there remains a very real danger
that using etymology to define meaning will mislead us, so any
results based purely on etymology should be noted as tentative.
As for עלמה being derived from "hidden," the connection between
"hidden" and "virgin" doesn't immediately jump out at me. It could
equally be argued that an עלמה was "hidden" because she was not
of an age to leave her father's house. There's sufficient ambiguity
here to pretty much allow any meaning you want for עלמה to be
justified by such an etymological link.
P.S. This brings to mind the "reverse" etymological fallacy I've
heard used to describe the meaning of the Greek term δυναμις
based on the word "dynamite" in English!
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