Word of the Day / Gleeda

How the word for manna from God turned into that latter-day frozen delight, ice cream.

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Frozen food and drink has been enjoyed for millennia, but ice-cream as we know it only became commonplace in the second half of the 19th century with the development of refrigeration technology, and of the ice manufacturing industry.

It seems that the first to write about this cold treat in Hebrew was a Polish doctor named Frenkel in one of the most influential Jewish publications of the day "The Zefira." The good doctor wrote in 1892: "At the gates of homes of the people of Israel babes of 3-4 years swarm like bees around their brethren with the 'tzuf-kerakh.' Each one hands him a penny or two and in return gets to lick the tray smeared with the cold delight."

"Tzuf-kerakh" literally means "ice nectar" but this monicker didn't catch on. We Hebrew speakers refer to ice cream as glee-DA, another of the many neologisms introduced into Hebrew by Eliezer Ben Yehuda.

How did he reach that? Ben Yehuda took the Semitic root g-l-d, which he took from the Bible - but not its original Hebrew version. No, Ben-Yehuda chose the Aramaic version.

"And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground." (Exodus 16:14)

This verse describes the manna that God gave the People of Israel as they wandered the desert. The Hebrew word translated as "frost" is barad; the Aramaic word is gleeda, which became our modern word for ice-cream.

And thus Ben Yehuda and other writers used the root g-l-d for words related to freezing and ice. For example, in 1895, Ben Yehuda used it to report in his newspaper that the Ottoman government issued a monopoly on the manufacture of ice in Jerusalem. Once ice was available, so was ice-cream.

Today the use of the root g-l-d has become obsolete in that form with the exception of gleeda. Modern Israelis use the word KE-rakh for ice and ka-FA for freeze. G-l-d has become confined to ice cream alone – and, at the other end of the aesthetic spectrum, to scab (geled), as in on the knee, not strike-breaker.

Shoshana Kordova is on leave. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

Ice cream.Credit: Bloomberg

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