Word of the Day / Neshek: New Meaning to the Kiss of Death

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On Wednesday we looked at the connection between a kiss (neshika) and the heel of a loaf of bread. Now let’s take a look at the darker side of the same root: neshek, which means “weapons.”

The root n.sh.k. has multiple unrelated meanings, which can be found in the Bible. Genesis tells us that the patriarch Jacob kissed (vayishak) his future wife Rachel (29:11), while I Chronicles 12:2 describes men “armed with bows” (noshkei keshet) who could shoot arrows and sling stones with both their right hands and their left.

The two sides of this root give a new meaning to the kiss of death; in Hebrew, all kisses can be said to contain some violence and all violence, some kisses. What this means for the peace process I leave to greater prognosticators than myself.

One of the Even-Shoshan dictionary entries for the past singular nashak (which has the same meaning as the slightly different form nishek) reads “touched and brought his lips close to someone or something in an expression of love or friendship or respect, or out of a feeling of strong attraction.” The other entry for nashak reads “armed himself, girded himself with weapons [klei neshek].”

Nashak is also a noun: it's the armorer in the Israeli army – the noncom who issues the soldiers their weapons.

The funny thing about both sides of an Israeli kiss is that this duality of love and death can also be found in the words for arming oneself and having sex, both of which share the root zayin. Indeed, the weapons-related entry on nashak defines it in part with the word hizdayen – which means “armed himself” in this context, but also means “he had sex.” (More on this on Friday.)

Naturally, these multiple meanings can sometimes cause misunderstandings.

On a website featuring “favorite mistranslations from around the world,” Josephine Bacon, the owner of British-based translation agency American Pie, posted: "My own favourite is when a translation agency in British Columbia asked me to check a set of questions that the police would ask suspect motorists in Hebrew. In one question they meant to ask ‘are you carrying a weapon?’ but what the translator, who had clearly not learned Hebrew beyond first grade Sunday School had written was ‘will you give me a kiss?’”

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

Neshek at the Rocky Mountain Gun Show in Utah.Credit: Bloomberg

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