I would like to know the origin of the names for the various cantillation marks, understanding that there are different names for different notes

related 1, 2

  • Why would there be an origin for these names? Is there an origin for the names of the letters? Names are just conventions.
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 2:00
  • 1
    Are you asking about the debated passage in Nedarim (37b)?
    – Oliver
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 2:08
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    The Wikipedia page you linked has the explanations of the names. Is that not what you're asking? There's mostly common sense -- the karnei farah look like cow horns; the kadma is at the beginning, etc. Most of the names are Aramaic because the people who came up with them spoke Aramaic. Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 3:12

1 Answer 1


The names most often have to do with the melodies they make, secondarily with their grammatical functions, and thirdly with their visual appearance.

Examples of Names having to do with Melody:

  • Athnah - Rest
  • Tarha - Dragging
  • Geirish - Expel
  • Tevir - Break
  • Zarqa - Scatter

Examples of Names having to do with Grammatical Function

  • Athnahta - Rest
  • Sof Pasuq - End of a verse
  • Qadma - To progress/Advance

Examples of Names having to do with Visual Appearance

  • Zaqeif Qaton - Little Upright/Stander.
  • Zaqeif Gadol - Big Upright/Stander
  • Qarne Farah - Horns of a Cow
  • Shofar Holekh - Walking Horn
  • Shofar Mehuppakh - Reverse Horn

The names are almost exclusively in Aramaic, and not in Hebrew. A lot of Ashkenazim mistakenly call the symbol above this letter ב֗‬ Revi'i out of the misplaced notion that the word is Hebrew and therefore means 4th. It's Aramaic, meaning to crouch or descend, which explains the melodic fall of the revi'a. The names used to show a lot more similarities in the different traditions until corruptions started creeping in. Here is a photo from the 1850 Torah Ohr showing the similarity between names.

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  • Crouching is probably more a contrast to Zakef which means standing and has a second dot standing above it. In fact nearly every name is just a reference to it's shape and nothing else. Probably because they aren't proper nouns at all as much as ways of referring to those shapes. The 'standing' one. The 'step' one. The 'moon' one. The 'extended'' one. The 'chain' one. The 'horn' one. The one that looks just like a Segol. Etc.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 5:20
  • @DoubleAA I agree with you. But then we have ones like Athnah (rest) and Tarha (dragging). Those ones clearly aren't about look.
    – Aaron
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 6:31
  • Why is 'rest' a grammatical function and not a shape? It's a picture of a stool. Why is Zarka a melody? It's meaning is like Pashta (spread out) which it looks just like: sticking off the end of the word. Why is dragging a melody not a shape since the bottom of it drags backwards, not unlike a dragging plow? Yetiv is at the base of the word. Darga is a step. Geresh looks like a known punctuation mark. Gershayim is two of them. Kadma could be an abbreviation for Pashta Mukdemet since it goes earlier on the word (cf. Shnei Pashtin). Shalshelet. Segol.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 13:47
  • I don't really see the Athnah as looking very much like a stool. I also think the Masoretes would be floor/carpet sitters so I don't think they'd be very interested in stools. Tarha is just a line, you can say it goes backwards like a plow, or you could say the ma'arikh should be called tarha because it looks like a plow c8.alamy.com/comp/EDNXW0/ancient-plough-EDNXW0.jpg it just depends on the angle you are looking.
    – Aaron
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 17:46
  • Indeed. But what matters is what angle they looked at it from. You're just making up categories from your perspective. Why do yoy say it is most often based on their melodies when I have given shape reasons to nearly all of them?
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 17:48

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