The Aramaic word דמסתפינא came up in a sefer of mine,would anyone know what it means ?

  • 3
    A question like this would be easier to answer if you provide the whole sentence so that other people have context for the word.
    – LN6595
    Dec 27, 2015 at 17:48

1 Answer 1


It literally means "that I am afraid." "לולא דמסתפינא"--"were it not that I am afraid" is a common rabbinic phrase typically signaling a novel interpretation which the author is not confident enough in to overturn precedent with.

The root is "ספי," meaning "fear." The suffix "נא" with the prefix "דמ" means "that I am." "ת" is because the construction is hitpa'el, and comes after the "ס" to make the word slide off the tongue easier.

See here, under the entry for "ספא, ספי."

EDITED in light of comments below.

  • 2
    Actually, the ד prefix is the relative particle (ש in Hebrew), the מ after the ד is because it is a participle and the ת is because it is a hitpa'al. Otherwise, correct. (And the ת is after the ס for the same reason that it follows sibilants in Hebrew: as you said, because it flows easier.)
    – Shimon bM
    Dec 27, 2015 at 22:13
  • The suffix "נא" is plural, first person. The "ד" is therefore the subject of the participle, and so the literal meaning of the word would be: it escapes us. The literal etymological idea is that the concept in question is fleeing from our understanding as if it ("ד") were afraid of our understanding, and so the idea escapes us.
    – Joseph
    Dec 28, 2015 at 4:15
  • @Joseph - That's incorrect. The suffix indicates the subject; the prefix (ד) is a relative particle. The phrase means "Were it not that we were afraid". You're right that it's a plural subject, but with a singular referent (a bit like the royal "we"). So even though it says that "we are afraid", it is the author's way of referring to himself.
    – Shimon bM
    Dec 28, 2015 at 11:29
  • @ShimonbM - I agree 110% with your interpretation of the translation, which is absolutely 110% correct; however, the participle is masculine singular because the "ד" is masculine singular, and therefore the "ד" is the subject of the participle grammatically. This construction is an excellent example of the "deponent" nature of Aramaic.
    – Joseph
    Dec 28, 2015 at 13:59
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    If נא is plural, what is singular? I was under the impression that נא, like the word אנא, is singular.
    – Dov F
    Dec 28, 2015 at 18:58

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