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By Isaac Mozeson


Review of The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th ed.

May03

Review of  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, NY. 2011
    by Isaac Mozeson, formerly Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, SUNY

A member of our global Edenics team gifted me with the big (2084 dual-column pages) and beautiful 5th edition (2011) of the American Heritage Dictionary.  Our team has 40,000 English and other modern words traced to ancient Semitic, so he was enthused about the new appendix of Semitic roots that wowed us even more than the elaborate color photos, encyclopedic scope and exquisite formatting.

The several hundred Semitic roots put the AHD in a class of its own.  It is an impressive innovation that promises an overdue upgrading of etymology in line with the hard scientific evidence of two crucial facts that the majority of historical linguists accept:

1) All humans had a species-wide Proto-Earth language in prehistory, which later broke up.  This theory is called Monogenesis of Language.  Just because Chinese, Hebrew and Mayan lore have corroborating legends on this theory does not make it merely legendary.

2) The Semitic-speaking Fertile Crescent had agriculture and literacy long before Greek merchants borrowed the alphabet from the Semitic Aleph-Bet.  We must agree with the AHD's John Huehnergard that 'the Semitic language family has the longest recorded history of any linguistic group.'  But we must be puzzled by his statement that 'all words of Semitic origin in English are loanwords.'  It is consistent with science to assume that the Indo-European root for field, agro- , has earlier roots in Semitic AKR, farming. And it is unscientific to assume that EARTH and Semitic AReTS (soil, land) or BERRY and Semitic PeRY (fruit), or REGULAR and Semitic RaGeeYL (regular) and thousands more share sound and sense by mere chance coincidence.

The AHD should openly declare it if they truly accept the 19th Century thinking that the races evolved separately, and that any similarities of un-borrowed vocabulary are purely coincidental.  More likely, they will accept some historic Semitic roots as supplements to their signature, reconstructed Indo-European roots when they see sufficient evidence of quality and quantity.  Let the AHD begin conservatively by expanding known  orrowings.

Of course AMEN (agreement in faith) is a loanword from Hebrew liturgy. But AMENABLE is also about agreement, and the AHD only offers only us as sources the hypothetical root men-2 (to project) and European words of threatening.  JUBILEE, of course, is a Hebraism. The Jubilee year was loudly and joyously trumpeted by the YoaBHaiL (horn).  So the etymology of JUBILANT could begin, not end, with a Latin source.
The etymology of GIRAFFE does end with Semitic, but Arabic zirafa does not get us to the sound or sense of GIRAFFE.  Hebrew GHoaReF (neck, scruff) does. The Hebrews' origin in the Late Bronze Age does not prevent the language from being a reservoir of Proto-Semitic roots. (Just as Lithuanuan best preserves ancient Indo-European words.) Moreover, the apparently older Semitic languages are pieced together from artifacts with difficulty, with different opinions as to what a letter sounds like or what a word means. Even if an etymologist or Semitic scholar dislikes the content of the Hebrew Bible, there exists no more extensive or better studied literature in antiquity. A few score animal names seem to be best traced to Hebrew; for example,  the HORSE may derive from [K]HOAReSH  (plower).  Essays on animal names and more are at www.edenics.net
The bible used to be most Americans only book, but it became a closed book to lexicographers. One example among scores of lost borrowings involves OGRE, the deadly giant whose profile has been softened by Shrek, and whose re- suffix is from the French writer who put the OGRE into literature.  After Goliath the most famous biblical giant is Og, King of Bashan.

The AHD, as other dictionaries, does have the Greek source of SACK as a borrowing from Semitic.  But they want us to believe the improbable fable that the Greeks and Romans carried this bag-word throughout the wide Indo-European world (Ireland to Persia).  SACK is a near-universal word, with variants throughout Asia and the New World.  Nobody brought words to isolated tribes of the Amazon jungle that only were discovered in the 20th Century.  Nobody had to borrow other universal words, like MA and PA, which echo Semitic EM and AhBH read from right-to-left.

Beyond borrowings,  LAD is a significant word to discuss because the Oxford English Dictionary called it 'Origin Unknown.' Centuries ago Noah Webster cited the 'Shemitic' LD root of birthing, like Arabic walid (boy) or the Hebrew YeLeD (boy). There was a raging Kulturkampf back in The Age of Reason, a backlash against the Hebraicism of the New England Puritans promoted by Harvard and Yale divinity schools.  We've had time to calm down, and be objective.  Etymology should no longer be a cultural football. After all, the etymology of ETYMOLOGY is Greek etumos, truth.  Let time and objective research determine if Greek truth is a psycholinguistic confounding of Semitic EMT (truth).  If any dictionary can lead us to deeper truth, it should be the AHD with its intrepid respect for Semitic roots.

This review is too short to more than suggest where readers and the AHD can find new data that modifies old theories.  The Chinese, Japanese, Mongols and Thais did not get their dental-liquid-guttural (tooth, tongue and throat made) 'DiReCtion' word from the theoretical Indo-European root reg (straight).  DIRECTION is one of the color-coded charts at  www.edenics.org ; research is finding more near-universals than SACK, PA and MA.   If a language professional is curious to see data that his/her professor could not imagine, but prefers to avoid inexpensive downloads, he/she will receive everything free by emailing me at mozeson@yahoo.com 

Even if the AHD investigates, and eventually warms up to the Monogenesis of Language theory, they may take the pessimistic view of many scholars that few words from the prehistoric Proto-Earth can now be found.  But if  an AHD edition VI would cite a few hundred slam-dunk Semitic roots as 'related' or at least 'comparable,' this would be an advance to celebrate.  The dictionary that does ride the new wave of the coming New Word Order will survive and thrive in the Information Age.
The AHD's Indo-European roots may be purely based on speculation, but the work of reconstruction is quite useful, and so accurate as to often be only letter shifts away from the Semitic roots that the English, etc. words may have ultimately come from.

Below are a dozen examples, from the rarer roots with three consonants:
IE root      meaning     proposed derivative    Semitic (Hebrew)         meaning          shifts involved
bhreus-3   to break        ruise                           P-R-TS                  to burst, break   bilabial B/P
bursa    hide, wineskin  purse (unknown origin)      BSR                        skin, flesh          metathesis
dhreibh     to push          drive                            D-R-BH                  ur, goad
drem       to sleep             dormant                      RDM                        to sleep              metathesis
gerbh    to scratch           carve, graph                 GLV                         to shave, scrape  liquid L/R
kreus    to begin to freeze   crust                          Q-R-SH                    to congeal
spere     ankle                    ur                             PRS                           hoof                 metathesis
spreg    to speak                speech                        SPH                            speech             guttural G/H
spek     to observe             spectacle                     SH-Q-PH                   to look over      metathesis
ters       to dry                    terrarium, territory       AReTS                         earth, land         metathesis   
trep-2   to turn                      tropic                        TRF                           to mix, confuse  bilabial P/F
wlkwo   wolf                       wolf, lobo                    KLV                              canine            reverse

As lovely and easy to use a book as the AHD is, I don't see too many non-digital readers in 2025.  I was in grad school when John Lennon still lived, but even an old fogy like me uses on-line dictionaries.  If I want photos of prominent people, one of the AHD's standout features, I go to Google Images.  If I want a definition of Jerusalem that includes a nod to 'Palestinian resistance,'  I'll go straight to the Al Jazeera website. Importantly, proud owners of the paper AHD are given a passkey code for the digital AHD, with a free download app for five different mobile devices.  
The growing number of readers who want a Semitic root for an Indo-European word, say LBN (white) for ALBINO, are more likely to go to our  E-Word Digital Dictionary (1200 pages).  The AHD is a magnificent reference book, a mini-Google for the digitally-challenged, but it is still Semitically-challenged for etymology.

For an AHD6 to exist and succeed, the editors should think 21st Century (globally), rather than 18th Century (Eurocentric).  They should embrace the undeniable evidence for a Proto Earth, and publish actual Semitic roots alongside the make-believe IE roots -- at least cross-referencing those 10-20,000 cases where the Semitic root provides better sound and sense correspondence.  With cautious but brave steps towards contemporary findings, the AHD can beat its rivals and become the single best English dictionary… perhaps even continuing to exist as treeware.
--------------------------

New ed. of THE ORIGIN OF SPEECHES http://post.ly/1ow4T lightcatcherbooks   amazon.com
Archived posts, Edenics searches + web games: http://www.edenics.net/
Edenics DVDs. Edenic (Biblical Hebrew) as the original, pre-Babel human language program see our many resources at http://www.edenics.org/ incl. videos in English, Spn., Fr. or Ger. youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=glWG3coAtEg
 



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