Hebrew In Israel | Small Men And The Pupil – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Small Men And The Pupil – Learn Torah

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I will admit that this post is a response to a post I saw about a Hebrew word.  It is very common for people who are not experts in the field to offer their idea on a subject, but in many cases they lack the tools to explain things correctly.  I keep on seeing this in my field, and I do my best to correct the problem.

A very difficult word in Hebrew is the word אישון- Ishon; Pupil.  Due to the fact that Hebrew uses roots we assume that what we have in front of us is the root, or at least most of it.  The problem here is that the root of this specific word is not clear, and many tend to take it to a root of another word assuming they are linked.  It is very common for speakers to do analogies which lead to the creation of new words, but in this case I am not sure it is true.

In the book “Sefer Hashorashim”, R. David Kimchi (Provence 1160-1235) asserts that the word אישון is a suffixed form composed of the word איש-man, and the adverbial suffix-ון which indicates miniaturization (which is NOT the case every time).  In other words it means “small man” with the idea in mind that sometimes we can see our reflection in the eye.  A form of this can be found in Persian “Mardumak”-small man.  The problem with this is that the root of איש is probably אנש which means אישון and איש do not share a root.  The second issue is that אישון predates the contact with Persian and hence we must doubt there was any contact and influence (Persian and Hebrew come from different families).


Words from the east tend to migrate to western Semitic languages via Akkadian or similar languages, and we probably need to look there.  In Akkadian we find the word išinnu which means “grain”, which some believe developed into the Hebrew word (maybe as “small object”).  Some dictionaries claim that the word has a connection to the meaning “time” maybe with the sense of “night time”, but I have yet seen evidence of this in Akadian dictionaries.

Another possibility is in Hebrew itself in the word אִישׁוֹן- Ishon/Eshon which is the darkness of night (Prov 7:9).  In this case not only do we have two words which are connected in form and sound, but also share a common feature-Blackness.  Hence the possible analogy had to do with a reality which is much more to the point than loose ideas such as reflections which can only be seen if you look closely.

In sum, we see that etymology can be a tricky matter, and as I have demonstrated in other places we must not be quick to judge the meaning of this in a superficial way.  Words have a history and belong to a larger world of concepts that cannot be explained in a simple way.  We tend to think that because we understand out own language that we can also explain what is going on.  Unfortunately in Hebrew it is not the case, and one does need professional training to understand things correctly and have a full understanding of meaning.


Originally Published:  23 June 2015

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