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

Jonathan Mohler jonathan.mohler at gmail.com
Thu Jul 18 15:24:34 EDT 2013

Give me some space, I can't breathe.

Everyone needs some breathing room.

George, I do agree with you that one needs to guard against the etymological fallacy.  However, in this case the connection between breathing and space/room/wide is both natural and persistent.  Even from a physical standpoint, a modern balloon is expanded by breath.  It might even be a universal connection as well: BReath and BReadth in English are both Bilabial-Liquid words (B-R or B-L in words like blow or flute); in Swahili Pua, nose and uPaNa, breadth/width, PuMua, breathe/take a rest.

Anyway, since there's no more room for comment, I won't breathe another word.

Jonathan Mohler
Baptist Bible Graduate School
Springfield, MO

On Jul 18, 2013, at 11:00 AM, b-hebrew-request at lists.ibiblio.org wrote:

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

> 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

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