Word of the Day Bakbuk: That Great Sipping Sound

The modern Hebrew word for 'bottle' occurs in the Bible, but the word's origin is probably onomatopoeic.

Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad
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Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad

One of Hebrew’s best onomatopoeic words is bakbuk (bak-BUK) - bottle. It’s a word that is supposed to sound like liquid being poured out of a bottle, or perhaps being gulped down one's throat.

European languages usually denote this sound using a ‘g.’ For example, in German the sound is rendered glukgluk and, while in French it is rendered glouglou, but here in the Middle East, bottles must sound a bit different as Arabs refer to the sound as bakbaka, though their word for bottle isn’t derived from it. It’s zujaja.

The word bakbuk appears in two places in the Bible. In Jeremiah 19:1 it reads, “Thus saith the Lord, Go and get a potter’s earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests." In 1 Kings it says, “And take with thee ten loaves, and cracknels, and a cruse of honey, and go to him: he shall tell thee what shall become of the child.” In the first verse the translators of the King James Bible went with “bottle” and in the second with “cruse.”

David Kimhi, the important 12th century lexicographer, not having a word to describe an onomatopoeia, explained the idea using the word bakbuk as an example. In the entry for tzartzar, the Hebrew word for cricket, so called because of its song, Kimhi explains that this is like the word bakbuk. “In the holy language its name is bakbuk that when a man drinks from it or pours from it goes bakbuk.”

The word bakbuk was didn’t get much use until the beginning of the 20th century when the use of Hebrew as a spoken language began taking hold in Palestine. Around the same time, the number of glass bottles began to skyrocket after Michael Joseph Owens of the United States invented an automated machine to manufacture bottles. The company he founded 1903 merged with the Illinois Glass Company and changed its name to the Owens-Illinois Glass Company, which manufactures half of the world’s glass bottles.

Later in the 20th century with the invention of plastics, more bottles began being manufactured, further increasing the use of the word bakbuk.

'Bakbuk'Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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