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On the Sound and Form of the Hebrew Words qa‘aqa‘

lights) – of turning the light on and off.

The act of tattooing is also made of a plurality of small and short sub-

actions scattered over time and space: puncturing the skin with a needle

soaked in pigment. These actions are, in turn, made of exactly two mirror

image sub-actions: lowering and lifting the tattooing needle. Therefore,

the form of the verb


(to tattoo) is not arbitrary, but rather places

it as a member of a group of isomorphic verbs, which are characterized by

indicating sense of plurality.

In conclusion, as this essay shows, the sounds of the biblical word


suggests that it originally mimicked the sounds of one of the

tattooing methods of the ancient world, and that the form of the verb

derived from it,


, places it in a group of verbs which indicate a

sense of plurality, since in this ancient method, tattooing was conducted

by repeatedly puncturing the skin with a pigment soaked needle, while

each perforation produced a tapping sound.

1 English translation from:


2 See: M. Bar-Ilan, “Magic Seals on the Body among Jews

in the First Centuries C.E.”,


, 57 (1988), pp. 37-50


3 B. Harshav, “Does Sound Have Meaning?”

The Art of


, Carmel Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2000

(1986): p. 63 (Hebrew).

4 In Biblical Hebrew, the letter




) represented

a uvular consonant, commonly transcribed as q, while

today it represents a velar consonant, commonly

transcribed as ‘k’. The letter ‘




) represented

a guttural consonant, commonly transcribed as ‘,

whereas today it represents the vowel a. Considering

these differences, while “tattoo” is today pronounced

in Hebrew as qaaqua, in biblical Hebrew it was

pronounced as qa‘aqa‘.

5 D. Mosko,

The World of Tattoos: Secrets from the

Forbidden Art

, 1980: p. 4 (Hebrew).

6 Y. Greenberg, “Event internal pluractionality in Modern

Hebrew: A semantic analysis of one verbal reduplication


Brill’s Journal of Afroasiatic Languages and


2.1 (2010): p.125.