On the contrary: it was a lot more Europeanised—for the simple reason that, even after the hundreds of words that Eliezer Ben-Yehudah had introduced into the lexicon to make Hebrew useable as a modern everyday language , it still lacked many terms needed for contemporary life.Continue reading
Tag Archives: Hebrew
Q&A: What does the tattoo on Amos Burton’s left forearm in the series “The Expanse” (see Season 3 episode 8) mean? It looks like Hebrew.
This is a dog’s breakfast of an inscription, which requires a bit of sleuthing.
Q&A: What is the origin of the quadriliteral/doubled roots in Hebrew? Do they come from another language system?
In biblical Hebrew, such doubling—of short, two-letter roots, or of the second letter—was used to suggest repetition, a cyclical or self-referential action, or some other process of that sort.
- b-l-b-l is a doubling of b-l, (a derivative of Babel, after the Tower of Babel in Gen. 11:9) to mean ‘to confuse, confound, jumble up’.
- t-l-t-l is a doubling of the last two letters of the root n-t-l, to signify ‘to shake [something] back and forth’
- g-l-g-l, from the root g-l-l (‘mound’, esp. of rocks), to mean rolling (orig., of a large boulder, e.g. to cover a well).
The import of four-letter roots from European languages didn’t really occur in earnest until the Hellenist period (~300BCE onwards).
Q&A: Why is USA called ארץ הברית (= Land of the Covenant) in Hebrew?
It isn’t. It’s called ארצות הברית (lit. “Countries of the Covenant/Alliance”)—which is indeed a poor translation of “United States”, as many people have remarked over the years.
A far more accurate translation would have been המדינות המאוחדות (Hamdinot Hameuḥadot)—but that’s more of a mouthful, and too close to האומות המאוחדות (HaUmot Hameuḥadot—the United Nations), so the poor translation has stuck.
So if you had any furtive hopes that the Hebrew name of the U.S. harboured an unknown divine approbation, I’m sorry to dash them—but there it is.
Q&A: Why didn’t Eliezer Ben-Yehuda use Greek root words to develop modern Hebrew from biblical Hebrew, instead of inventing new ones himself?
There are several components to this answer:Continue reading
Q&A: What is a classic expression in Hebrew that (unfortunately, in your view) is not used anymore?
I was thinking of this some months ago, when a translation client of mine complained to me that she was not allowed by her publisher to use an excerpt from her own book for an article she is writing.Continue reading
Q&A: Did the Modern Hebrew revivers want the Sephardic accent to become the new Hebrew accent, or a blend of the Ashkenazi and Sephardi accents?
The “Language Committee” of the early Zionist period (precursor to the Academy of Hebrew Language) debated this topic at length, along with teachers of the Hebrew schools. The majority opinion was that the Sephardi pronunciation was preferable, for several reasons:Continue reading
Q&A: When Israelis Hebraized their last names in the 1930-60s, was there any paperwork needed or people just started using the new surname?
People usually started by simply adopting the new surname informally, often followed by their original surname in parentheses, until their new surname becomes better known among the public—e.g. David Ben-Gurion (né Grin). Then after a year or two, they made it official by registering it at the Ministry of the Interior (or its equivalent during the British Mandate period). This was useful, as in some cases the user might decide to change the name to something else, or to tweak it (as happened in my own family).Continue reading
Q&A: Why do Judean coins minted during the Hasmonean dynasty or the first Jewish-Roman war contain text in paleo-Hebrew script?
It was a kind of nationalist affectation, to proclaim the ancestral, pre-Babylonian-exile, Israelite origins of the newly-independent Hasmonean state—a bit like the motto of the British Royal Family (Dieu et mon droit – ‘God and my right’) is in French, harking back to its Norman origins.Read more: Q&A: Why do Judean coins minted during the Hasmonean dynasty or the first Jewish-Roman war contain text in paleo-Hebrew script?
Modern Israel, by the way, does much the same: the Old Hebrew script is used on the modern sheqel coin (bottom left):
The difference is, in Hasmonean times, people knew what the Old Hebrew text said, whereas 99.9% of modern Israelis haven’t a clue: most people assume it says ‘sheqel’, but in fact, it spells Yehud, which ironically is not Hebrew, but the Persian name for its Judean province, dating back to the sixth century BCE, when Persia had just conquered the Babylonian empire, and allowed all exiled nations (the Judeans included) to return to their ancestral homes.Continue reading
Q&A: What is the mystery in Genesis 1:1?What’s the Hebrew equivalent of the Yiddish word “Mensch”?
Off the top of my head, there is no single Hebrew term that truly conveys the same meaning of someone who is honourable, courageous, courteous, and just an all-round good person.
The closest Hebrew terms that I can think of are:Continue reading