Translating "witch" (was RE: The Potterverse)

Gili Bar-Hillel gbhillel at
Mon Feb 23 04:50:27 EST 2004

>>So Jerome was using 'witch': but whether he meant the same thing by it
>>we do, or the original writer of the Hebrew did, who knows?

That's a key question, "who knows". One can only surmise, and seek
additional evidence. I am a native speaker of Modern Hebrew but that does
not mean I can fully understand Biblical Hebrew without interpretation, and
I'm definitely no expert on how people lived thousands of years ago. All I
can tell you is that the word "mechashefa" has carried into Modern Hebrew as
meaning roughly what "witch" means in English, perhaps with slightly
different religious overtones. And it has not carried any connotations of
well poisoning. The etymology of Semitic words is much easier to follow than
that of words in other languages, because all native words contain a 3
letter "root" that remains constant through different shades of meaning. For
example, the root of "Mehashefa" is mem, khaf, feh. This is the same as the
root for various words I would translate back into English as: sorcery,
magic, enchantment, bewitchment, etc. The root for poison is "ra'al": resh,
ayin, lamed. Not even close.  Tracing roots can be VERY telling of ancient
prejudices, for instance, the root for "male" is the same as the root for
"memory", whereas the root for "female" is the same as the root for
"puncture". Or sometimes it can be almost random, for instance, the root for
"poison" is the same as the root for "veil", which requires a bit more
stretching to understand.

This entire conversation is far too intellectual and makes my brain hurt.

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