[b-hebrew] What exactly is the semantic overlap between רוח as (1) 'breathe, blow' and (2) 'to be wide, spacious'?

George Athas George.Athas at moore.edu.au
Wed Jul 17 23:25:23 EDT 2013

With etymological and semantic questions, Stewart, I recommend you consult a good lexicon like Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the OT (HALOT).

Here's a summary of what it says:

Some early scholars proposed two different homonymous roots, one meaning to breathe, the other meaning to expand or be wide. However, this seems unlikely. Hebrew and cognate languages (eg. Phoenician) seem to associate these two meanings so that we probably only have one single root. The meaning of 'expand' only comes in causative stems. Also, Akkadian has a conceptually similar root, napašu (cf. Hebrew נפשׁ), which also means both to breathe and to expand.

The thing to bear in mind with semantics is that while etymology can tell us how words develop their meaning over time, their actual function in particular contexts is the final determiner of meaning.

Also, beware of the etymological fallacy: that a word now must convey what its etymology back then was. So I don't think we need to find any sense of expansion or width in the sense of breathing.

Dean of Research,
Moore Theological College (moore.edu.au)
Sydney, Australia

From: Stewart Felker <stewart.felker at gmail.com<mailto:stewart.felker at gmail.com>>
Date: Thursday, 18 July 2013 9:42 AM
To: B-Hebrew <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org<mailto:b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>>
Subject: [b-hebrew] What exactly is the semantic overlap between רוח as (1) 'breathe, blow' and (2) 'to be wide, spacious'?

There's also רֶוַח, as 'relief' - I'm assuming the overlap here would be in the same sense that we say 'having space' (or 'breathing easy'). But what exactly is the connection between 'wind, breath', etc. and being 'wide, spacious'?

Stewart Felker
University of Memphis
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