Word of the Day Shen: A Recipe of Literal and Figurative Teeth

What does the tooth fairy do with all that garlic? Soup anyone?

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

Ever heard of garlic soup, or wondered how much garlic would go into such a dish? According to one Hebrew recipe, the answer is: three heads of garlic, or about 40 unpeeled garlic teeth (shinei shum).

And that totally makes sense, because if a whole garlic is a head, why shouldn’t it have teeth? The term is also quite evocative, since garlic cloves really do look tooth-like. (Though it does make me wonder what exactly the tooth fairy does with all those cloves; tooth soup, anyone?)

Apparently Spanish speakers also see the similarity between garlic cloves and the whitish bonelike objects with which we eat them, since they refer to a clove as diente de ajo, or “tooth of garlic.” German speakers go for the other end of the body with Zehe Knoblauch, or “garlic toe.”

Although “an eye for an eye” has become a common phrase referring to exacting vengeance, the full biblical verse includes other body parts as well: “Eye for eye, tooth [shen] for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Exodus 21:24).

Even in the Bible, shen was used for figurative teeth as well as literal ones, as in the verse in 1 Samuel referring to a three-pronged fork – or rather, “flesh-hook of three teeth” (mazleg shlosh hashinayim), as the 1917 edition of the Jewish Publication Society has it – used in animal sacrifices (2:13).

As for that tooth fairy, I can only wonder if, on those tiring nights when countless loose teeth around the world fall from small gums like coins tumbling out of a wallet and into a piggy bank, she ever admonishes herself for biting off more than she could chew.

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.

Word of the day / ShenCredit: Dreamstime

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