Posts Tagged ‘French’

Jeremiah 50:17:

“Israel is a scattered sheep, the lions have driven him away; first the king of Assyria hath devoured him, and last this Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones.”

The translation here is according to JPS. The Hebrew word for “hath broken his bones” is עִצְּמוֹ (itzemo). It is important to point out that this translation is a rather loose one.

The word עִצְּמוֹ is based on the root עצמ, which spells the word etzem, meaning “bone.” The ו (“o”) ending means “him,” and the vowels indicate the verb form meaning “he performed this verb.” All together, עִצְּמוֹ means, literally, “he boned him.” What does “bone” mean as a verb?

In English, to bone is sometimes expressed as to “de-bone,” as in, to remove the bone from the flesh. It does NOT mean to break the bones.

Indeed this is exactly how Rashi defines this term: “He stripped his bones bare.” Then Rashi offers this French translation: דישושא”ר.

Guessing at a transliteration, I punched a few tries into Google Translate, eventually trying “desoser.” Google Translate suggested “désosser.” I tried that and found that it is a verb meaning to “bone,” defined as to “remove the bones from (meat or fish).”

Accordingly, we should adjust the translation of the verse as follows:

“Israel is a scattered sheep, the lions have driven him away; first the king of Assyria hath devoured him, and last this Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon hath stripped bare his bones.”

Peripherally, according to my theory that Rashi offers foreign translations not for the sake of translation but to show a linguistic link to the Hebrew, how is this the case here?

Turns out the French root of désosser is “os,” meaning bone. As such, it appears it derives from the Hebrew root עצמ meaning bone. The Hebrew letter ע (ayin) is the equivalent of the Latin letter O — it shares the same place in the alphabet (preceding P or פ — peh), and acts like a vowel. The second root letter, צ (tzadi), while pronounced by Ashkenazic Jews like the Z sound in “pizza,” is pronounced in other communities (such as Sephardic Jews) as an S sound. Hence, the “os” root is itself rooted in the Hebrew root for bone. (Even the last letter of the Hebrew root, מ, is an extremely flexible letter in Hebrew and is often dropped from the final form of a word.)

Bone-appetit! Hope you found this post to be OS’M.

Jeremiah 50:2:

“Declare ye among the nations and announce, and set up a standard…”

The translation is from JPS.

The Hebrew word for “standard” here is נס (nes).

The English word “standard” is being used here in a manner that is not up to date with today’s spoken American English, so some definition is in order. (You might say it’s a “non-standard” usage. See what I did there?)

Here, “standard” means “an object that is supported in an upright position, in particular: a military or ceremonial flag carried on a pole or hoisted on a rope” (Google).

Rashi translates nes as פורק”א, and describes it as “a sign for gathering.” What is this word?

Guessing “forque” as a transliteration, I searched that in Google and found, according to Wiktionary, that “forque” was indeed an Old Northern French word derived from the Latin “furca” meaning “gallows, beam, stake, support post, yoke.” It could also mean “pitchfork” or “forked stake,” and is the origin of the English “fork.”

Rashi spoke Italian, too?

Posted: February 23, 2016 in Hebrew
Tags: , ,

While explaining the word מחשים in I Kings 22:3, Rashi uses the Hebrew for “we are being lazy,” then uses a non-Hebrew colloquial term for further clarification to the reader. Here, he uses the phrase סיאמ”ו פיגר”י. Usually Rashi used a French idiom, but the word סיאמ”ו converts phonetically roughly to “siamo,” a decidedly non-French sounding word. The second term I phonetically converted roughly to “figre,” which looked like it could resemble a French word.

On to Google Translate. I set it to “detect language,” and typed in “siamo.” It returned “we are” in Italian! “We are” is exactly what I hoped for, but since when does Rashi use Italian words?

On to “figre.” This did not yield anything that made sense. So I decided to try “lazy” in English, matching the Hebrew term Rashi used, and translate it to French. Of the words returned by Google, the closest match was “feignant,” meaning “idle.” Not bad. But I was not satisfied. So I put “feignant” back into Translate, and translated it into Italian. What came back? “Pigrone”!  This apparently means “lazybones” in Italian. When I entered “pigre” or “pigri” into Translate, and translated it to English, it comes back as “lazy,” the exact term I was looking for, and this Italian word is once again an exact phonetic match to the one Rashi uses.

Just to be thorough, I ran the full phrase “we are lazy” through Translate and got “siamo pigri,” Rashi’s exact words!

But this leaves me with a different mystery. Why was Rashi, the French commentator, writing in Italian?


Found an awesome Rashi while reading I Kings 6:8:

“פֶּתַח הַצֵּלָע הַתִּיכֹנָה אֶל-כֶּתֶף הַבַּיִת הַיְמָנִית; וּבְלוּלִּים יַעֲלוּ עַל-הַתִּיכֹנָה, וּמִן-הַתִּיכֹנָה אֶל-הַשְּׁלִשִׁים”

Never mind the English translation right now, ‘cuz I’m working from the Hebrew. The context is the construction of Solomon’s Temple, and the text is describing the different parts of the structure.

As I read, I’m confused by the word “belulim.” The word ‘balul’ in Hebrew (or the root B-L-L in general) usually means “mixed up.” The abbreviated root, B-L, means the same, and the Torah states clearly that this is the root of the name of the city ‘Babel’ (or more properly ‘Bavel’ in Hebrew), the place where languages were confounded (mixed up). It is also certainly the root of the English word “ball,” and likely “bowl” as well. So what does it mean here in this verse? Rashi weighs in:


He first cites Targum that translates the word as “mesivatha” in Aramaic, from the S-B root which means to go around. (Famously, this is the root of the modern Hebrew word “sevivon,” a spinning top, known popularly in Yiddish as a “dreidel.”)

Rashi then relates this to an Old French word that I don’t recognize, spelled in Hebrew letters וויין. This might roughly be the equivalent of the Latin spelling “wein,” but I’m not sure what it amounts to in Old French. We will soon see that this word is related to the English word “wind” (verb), as in “turn” or “twist.”

Then Rashi goes on to German, where Rashi offers two terms: what appears to be phonetically pronounced as “vindel shtein,” and something that phonetically amounts to “shvindel shtig.” Rashi describes this as a sort of winding stone structure, a pillar of stone, as it were, with steps ascending around it, so that one ascends by walking around the central pillar.

Well, after some google searching with alternate spellings, I came up with a few things.

“Wendelstein” means “winding stone,” and is the name of a place in Bavaria, Germany. It is also the name of a mountain there (for which the place is named, presumably).

Germane (no pun intended) to our context, however, is that a “wendel-stein” was a structure in old German castles, which is exactly what Rashi describes. Some were winding ramps used to carry heavy things up. It can also refer to a winding staircase, also known in German as a “wendeltreppe.”

I haven’t figured out what a “shvindel shtig” is, but “schwindel” in modern German means “dizziness” (according to Google translate) and “schtig” translates as “addiction.” Perhaps the connotation is a structure that turns continually, such as the winding ramp or stairs described above.

Oh, and now the English translation of the verse according to JPS:

“The door for the lowest row of chambers was in the right side of the house and they went up by winding stairs into the middle row, and out of the middle into the third.”

I know, you’re thinking, “You could have just looked at the translation tobegin with!” But that’s not how I study. I read the original Hebrew and try to figure out what it means, using commentaries where appropriate. This is how scholarship is born. I find it amazing that my conclusion aligned with the translation (which I only checked at the end).

So can anyone else help me with the Old French term or the “schwindel schtig” thing?

UPDATE: Aha! Just figured out (via some more google searching for different variations) that “steig” in old German essential means “a steep track” ( So “schwindel steig” means a winding ramp — perfect!

Interestingly, even in modern Yiddish vernacular, particularly in “Yeshivish” slang, to “shteig,” is used to refer to one’s spiritual ascent, that is, when someone learns Torah with vigor, or increases their level of observance, this is called “shteigen”! I should have known!

Still need help with the French, though.

UPDATE: With the help of some awesome friends (shout-out to Ari Khan of West Hempstead, NY), we’ve solved the French weird mystery! The word that appears to say “vine” is apparently exactly that! It seems that the winding, twisting path of the vine caused that word to become the word for the staircase with the same shape. Hooray hooray hooray for words!