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In what reliable source can I look up the etymology of English (or other) words stretching all the way back to Semitic languages, especially Hebrew?

I often have suspicions that certain words might derive from specific Hebrew words (e.g. 'each' from 'איש') but it is very difficult to investigate, confirm or deny my baseless speculation.

(The Oxford English Dictionary has great etymology entries, but never goes further back than Greek as far as I can tell.)

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3 Answers

Sometimes the Hebrew word is also a derivative of another language, so the similarity is correlative, not causal. Ben Shoshan's dictionary is pretty good, as is Wikipedia. Hate to way it, but Mozeson's dictionary is a bunch of baloney. Another great resource is David curwin's excellent blog Balashon. If you have any suspicions, email him.

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ADDeRabbi, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for the very informative answer! Please consider registering your account by clicking on register, above, and following the prompts. This will give you access to all of mi.yodeya's features and will allow you to get full credit for your contributions. –  Isaac Moses Mar 4 '10 at 0:36
Baloney is spelled bologna, deriving from the ancient hebrew "baal agala";-) –  Yahu Mar 17 '10 at 2:27
balagole is a Yiiddish expression even though it derives from Hebrew, and I'm not sure it really has anything to do with the city in Italy. Besides, what do wagon drivers have to do with cold cuts? –  ADDeRabbi Mar 28 '10 at 13:44
Do you understand what ;-) means? If not, turn your monitor 90 degrees clockwise. –  Yahu Apr 1 '10 at 15:48
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You might want to check out The Word: The Dictionary That Reveals The Hebrew Source of English, by Isaac Mozeson (whose name I seem to have no trouble recalling, for some reason). I have heard this work criticized as consisting at least in part of folk etymology, so caveat emptor.

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Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky said over from sifrei kabbalah (mystical sources) that just like many holy souls fell in to the dark when Adam sinned so did many words of Lishon Hakodesh. Just like the Yerushalmi says we are in Galus (exile) to acquire geirim (converts) i.e. those fallen souls, so too we acquire back those words that were lost such as all those Egyptian words in Chumash, as well as all the Greek and Latin that became a part of our scholarly lexicon. Hence you will not find the root of many words tracing back to Hebrew as an earlier language because those words found their way into Hebrew later on after the formation of Greek, Latin, etc.

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