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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Weird Wild Whimsical (Hebrew) Words: Sneef / סְנִיף

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What’s the strangest word in the Hebrew language?  I’m totally open to your vote(leave it in the Comments!), but to my North American ears, it’s got to be the word “sneef.”

It means “branch,” as in a branch of a store, of the post office, or of anything else that has different locations. 

You can go to the sneef ha-doar, your local post office branch, a sneef of one of the many active youth movements like Bnei Akiva, or a sneef of your favourite (kosher) McDonald’s.  (Their website will even help you locate a kosher sneef.)

To Israelis, it makes perfect sense.  But to me, it sounds like something Dr. Seuss made up.  Or maybe that’s Sneetches?

Apparently, the word has an illustrious history, and actually comes from the gemara (Talmud). 

In the description of the shulchan,

the table used in the Beit HaMikdash, it says there were four “snifin” used to hold the lechem hapanim, the weekly “showbread.” (another crazy word):  ארבע סניפין של זהב דומין לדקרנין היו שם, שבהן היו סומכין את החלה (from תוספתא מנחות פרק יא) (thanks to this page for the reference!)

The word is used in other places in the Talmud as well, and when Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who was slightly nutty but indisputably very smart, compiled his first dictionary of the modern Hebrew language in the 19-teens (in essence, creating the language from scratch), he found the word, or knew of the word, and included it in his dictionary in place of the English word “branch.”

The modern Hebrew word for “branch,” as in a tree branch, is עָנָף / anaf, as in the  ענפי זית / anfei zayit, olive branches, in the official symbol of the State of Israel:

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Weirdly, the site where I found this information also indicates that the actual, correct word in Hebrew is actually saneef, punctuated with a “kamatz,” and not a “shva” as it’s almost always pronounced and written.  I couldn’t find another source for that, however.

It also points out that there is a similar word that has emerged in modern Hebrew, drawn directly from English, I’m sure, lehasnif (להסניף), which means – you guessed it – to “sniff.”  Don’t use it if you have a cold, though.  Morfix says it’s slang and only refers to the kind of sniffing you do with cocaine.

Learning something crazy about Israel every day… yup, that’s our motto!

Hoping to share Israel’s coolness with kids?  (Or just for yourself – adults love it, too, and I won’t tell!)  Check out my ebook, Now You Know:  Israel for Kids, available through Amazon.com.

israelkids

What’s your “weirdest Hebrew word”??? Share it in the comments!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


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