Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Naar or Naara?

In old English, the word "girl" meant a child of either gender. It was only around the beginning of the 16th century that the meaning of the word shifted, and "girl" came to mean specifically a female child.

Shmuel Dovid Luzatto makes the not-at-all-unreasonable suggestion that something similar happened in biblical Hebrew.  The word naar, which today means specifically a male youth, seems to have once been employed to describe a youth of either gender. When the Torah speaks of  various marriage violations in Deuteronomy 22 a word spelled naar is used on 13 occasions to denote a female. The same usage appears in many other places in the Torah.

For Luzzato and others, this is strong evidence that there was an alteration in meaning, and that the alteration occurred after the Torah was written.

Today, we avoid the problem by vocalizing the word naar in those instances so that it is read naarah, ie נַּעֲרָ, that word that today means specifically a female youth.


Search for more information about meaning shifts at 4torah.com.

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