Word of the Day Lavan: Which Came First, the Egg or Its White?

While the bible has no agreed-on word for black, white abounds.

Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad

As discussed in Tuesday’s Word of the Day, white is the second of the two basic colors with which languages began, the other being black. At least so postulate Brent Berlin and Paul Kay in their groundbreaking book "Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution" (1969).

According to the two, the earliest human languages started with only two words for color: black, which included all the dark, “cold” colors, and white, which included all the bright and “warm” colors. Over the generations, as languages evolved, more colors were added.

In the next few weeks we'll look at the Hebrew words for color and see if the Hebraic evolution of spectrum historically matches what Berlin and Kay posited. So far, our quest has not gone smoothly. We have seen that with black, Hebrew shrugged off the researchers’ theory, mainly because the word 'shakhor' – black in modern Hebrew – never appears in the bible, though "later" colors red and green certainly do.

And what about white?

Unlike shakhor, lavan (and its feminine counterpart levana) make quite a lot of appearances in the bible, describing hair and horses and other things. The word itself seems to be related to the Arabic word for milk - laban (though the Arabic word for white is different – abitz. That word, by the way, comes from the Arabic and Hebrew word for egg - beitza).

And while it has no agreed-upon word for 'black,' in fact in addition to lavan, the Bible has not one but two synonyms for white: khur - which biblical Hebrew shares with Aramaic, and tzakhor.

Khur fell out of use over the generations,but tzakhor has made it to the modern era, though its use is limited to highbrow literature and poetry.

So to conclude, the Hebrew of the Bible abounds with things described as white, which is as Berlin and Kay posit. Next Tuesday, we will look at the color red: according to their research - all languages with but three words for colors have this as their third word.

White dogCredit: Haaretz

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, this month.

Lapid to Haaretz: ‘I Have Learned to Respect the Left’

“Dubi,” whose full name is secret in keeping with instructions from the Mossad.

The Mossad’s Fateful 48 Hours Before the Yom Kippur War

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer