Word of the Day Pintzeta, for When Your Eyebrows Grow Over Your Forehead

An ancient German tribe – facially hirsute, perchance? – was the first known to come up with a word for tweezers.

Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad
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Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad

Tweezers, that tool used to manipulate small objects or pluck unwanted hair, are in Hebrew called pin-TZE-ta (plural - pin-TZE-tot).

This came about 2,000 years ago, when someone in an ancient German tribe came up with the word prikkton, an onomatopoeia meaning to prick. This word spread among the Northwestern Germanic people and filtered into English, where it eventually became prick, and into Dutch, where it would become prikken.

Evidently found to be a global convenience – eyebrows are out of control the world wide - the word prikkton also made its way into vulgar Latin as piccare. That evolved into pincre, which eventually turned into the French verb pincer - with the meaning of to pinch and to find fault. And there you have the origin of the English word pinch.

But what we care about is the Hebrew word. Hang on there.

During the Middle Ages the verb pincer gave rise to the noun pince, which described tongs of the kind you use to pull coal out of the fire. And sometime in the late 13th century, a diminutive form of this word, pincette, was born. That, dear reader, was tweezers.

The French pincette found its way into many European languages including German pinzette, Yiddish pinzet and Russian penzet during the 19th century.

Since these were the native tongues of most early Hebrew speakers, it is little surprise that they adopted that same word for the humble tweezers.

The earliest Hebrew reference to the word I could find was in the newspaper Davar in 1936, though it is likely that there was earlier use.

Two Hebrew alternatives were proposed, malketet and malket, from the Hebrew word for "to pluck". The Acadamy of the Hebrew Language approved the first word, but the people voted with their tongues, and hardly ever use it. Pintzeta it is.

Pintzeta, the Hebrew word for tweezers, to achieve that 'I have eyebrows not a millipede on my face' look.Credit: Dreamstime.com

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