Sunday, May 24, 2009


Some Words for Vital Functions

Most dictionaries list words in alphabetical order, e.g. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. Frederick William Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). But a few dictionaries take a radically different approach and arrange words in groups by semantic domain. One of the most ambitious efforts of this sort is Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988). Of course, both approaches have long pedigrees, although the study of semantic domains traditionally took the form of monographs on specialized vocabulary. "Callimachus compiled names of winds, fishes, and months; Dionysius Iambus had a chapter of fishermen's terms, and Eratosthenes other vocational vocabularies." (Peter Barr Reid Forbes and Robert Browning, "Glossa, Glossary (Greek)," in Oxford Classical Dictionary.)

J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, Oxford Introduction to Proto-European and the Proto-European World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), is not a dictionary per se, but many of its chapters are devoted to different semantic domains. In chapter 11 the authors discuss anatomy, and within that chapter section 11.6 deals with vital functions. Here are excerpts, from pp. 191-192:

Hebrew is not an Indo-European language, but I can't resist quoting a passage on a certain vital function from Primo Levi, The Periodic Table, tr. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1995), p. 12:
From rúakh, plural rukhòd, which means "breath," an illustrious term that can be read in the dark and admirable second verse of the Genesis ("The wind of the Lord breathed upon the face of the waters") was taken tiré 'n rúakh, "make a wind," in its diverse physiological significances, where one catches a glimpse of the Biblical intimacy of the Chosen People with its Creator. As an example of practical application, there has been handed down the saying of Aunt Regina, seated with Uncle David in the Café Florio on Via Po: "Davidin, bat la cana, c'as sento nen le rukhòd!" ("David, thump your cane, so they don't hear your winds!"), which attests to a conjugal relationship of affectionate intimacy.
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