Word of the Day gazoz
Some old-school shops still sell old-time soda. Photo by Dreamstime
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With the controversy surrounding Scarlett Johansson’s recent deal with Israeli company SodaStream, now seems like a good time to discuss that other Hebrew word for soda - gazoz (ga-ZOZ).

The word is a loanword, though Israelis probably wouldn’t guess it. It sounds Hebrew and could have been derived from the Hebrew word for gas (gaz) — itself a loanword — but it wasn’t.

The Hebrew word for gas — like the English, French and others — comes from the Dutch word gas, with the g pronounced like the ch in Loch Ness, as Dutch Gs are usually pronounced.

The word was coined by Jan Baptist van Helmont in his 1652 book "Ortus medicinae." In it, he explains in Latin where the word for the ethereal matter that surrounds us comes from “in nominis egestate, halitum illum, Gas vocavi, non longe a Chao” (In need of a name, I called this vapor gas, not far from chaos). In Greek, the first consonant of the word chaos is pronounced like the Dutch g.

The word originally meant "gap" and is cognate with the English word "yawn" (a gap in your mouth), but in ancient Greek cosmogony it was understood to be the great vast emptiness that was the world before creation.

It took some time until van Helmont’s word was accepted by the scientific community, when a group of natural philosophers, as scientists at the time were called, discovered that many different gases existed and that the air that surrounds us is a combination of several of these.

One of these was the Englishman Joseph Priestley, who, in 1767, invented soda water. Five years later, he published a paper titled “Impregnating Water with Fixed Air.”

It was Johann Jacob Schweppe, who took this theoretical knowledge and turned it into a commercial success when he founded in the Schweppes Company in Geneva in 1783.

Around the same time, when the drink was introduced in France, the words gazeux and gazeuse meaning “of gas” (in the masculine and feminine, respectively) were used to describe the various carbonated beverages, with first and foremost being eau gazeuse (gassed water). By 1885, the word gazeuse had become the name of the beverage.

This word was subsequently adopted by Turkish as gazoz. It is likely that both the French word and Turkish word played a part in giving Hebrew its word for a carbonated drink in the first decade of the 20th century when Palestine was under Ottoman rule.

The first reference I could find for the word in print was in Eliezer Ben Yehuda’s newspaper Hahashkafa, in 1907, in an Ottoman government announcement calling for entrepreneurs to open a number of required businesses in Gaza, with number three on the list being “a gazoz business.”

Three years later, the first kiosk in Tel Aviv opened on the corner of Herzl Street and Rothschild Boulevard under the city’s first electric light, and gazoz was pretty much the only thing it was licensed to sell.

As the years went by, the word gazoz lost favor. Today, Israelis generally drink brand-name sodas, not generic gazoz. On the other hand, places that sell old-fashioned sweetened carbonated drinks don’t only call these drinks gazoz, but gazoz shel pa’am (“soda of then”) to strengthen the sense of nostalgia for potential buyers.