Word of the Day Metzuvrakh: Why So Glum, Chum?

The Hebrew word for moody actually comes from two words meaning state and spirit.

Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad
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Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad

In Hebrew someone who is moody is said to be metzuvrakh or metzuvrakhat in the feminine. Etymologically this is an interesting word.

In Hebrew, as with other Semitic languages, the word for spirit and wind is one in the same: ruakh (ru-AKH). The word is cognate with the Aramaic rukha (ru-KHA) and the Arabic rukh.

The Hebrew Bible is full of phrases describing the state of one’s spirit. “But they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage” (Exodus 6:9); “His spirit was troubled” (Genesis 41:8); “A man in whom the Spirit of God is” (Genesis 41:38); “I have filled with the spirit of wisdom” (Exodus 28:3); “The spirit of jealousy come upon him“ (Numbers 5:14); “For the Lord thy God hardened his spirit” (Deuteronomy 2:30); “Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem” (Judges 9:23); “I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit” (Samuel 1:15); “David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him” (1 Samuel 16:23).

So many states of the spirit to choose from! It’s no wonder, then, that the phrase “state of spirit” - matzav ruakh (ma-TZAV ru-AKH) - came about, during the Middle Ages, to make things a bit easier. If you’re in a good mood, you have a matzav ruakh tov and if the opposite is true, you have a matzav ruakh ra.

Like the English, which uses the word moody, Hebrew formed the word metzuvrakh, concatenating the two words matzav and ruakh into a single word metzuvrakh at the close of the 19th century. The phrase caught on quickly so that, today, people think more about the state of their spirit than the word’s strange form or origin.

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

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