Word of the Day Lishkod: Work Those Almonds!

Stay alert, or you may miss the connection between this industrious verb and the tasty noun that may or may not derive from the same root.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

On Monday we talked about how shkedim, the noun, can mean both “almonds” and “tonsils.” This time, let’s take a look at the verb that’s created from the same root letters (but may or may not be etymologically linked).

Lishkod means “to be alert, to keep vigil,” “to be industrious or diligent” and “to persevere or take pains.” Though these definitions may not sound like the word has the least bit to do with almonds, the Bible does use both words in a poetic parallel.

As can be seen in the excerpt below from Jeremiah, the word shaked originally meant both “almond” and “almond tree,” before the word shkediya was coined for the tree alone.

Here’s the Jeremiah passage: “Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying: 'Jeremiah, what seest thou?' And I said: 'I see a rod of an almond-tree [shaked].' Then said the Lord unto me: 'Thou hast well seen; for I watch over [shoked] My word to perform it’” (1:11-12).

The medieval biblical commentator Rashi draws an explicit link between the noun and the verb, focusing on the almond tree’s status as an early harbinger of spring: “This almond tree is rushing to flower before all the other trees; so too I am rushing to carry out my words.” In other words, there’s a shared alertness here; God is on the alert, making sure to keep his promise, and the almond tree is alert, beating all the other trees to the punch by flowering first.

Yet this could just be a play on words, not the sign of a shared etymology. That, at least, seems to be the view of lexicographer Avraham Even-Shoshan, who writes in his classic dictionary that the derivation of the verb form is unclear and that it is also found in Canaanite.

The verb form can be found elsewhere in the Bible, as in Psalms 127:1: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh [shakad] but in vain.”

In modern Hebrew, lishkod, used in conjunction with the preposition al, is often used less in the context of vigilance or alertness and more to mean “working on” something.

A Hebrew technology news website wrote in June that Facebook was reportedly working on (shokedet al) a news service for mobile devices. The Rishon Letzion municipal website announced in 2011 that city officials were shokdim al a plan to reduce air pollution. And the word appears over a food article offering a recipe for a spread made of olives and, of course, almonds. The headline for the article, which ran in Maariv two years ago, begins, almost inevitably, with a combination of the verb and the noun: “Shokedet al hashkedim.” The cook, it seems, is working hard on that almond spread.

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.

Budding chefs have to make an effort with their dishes, including ones with almonds.Credit: Reuters

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