Background Image
Table of Contents Table of Contents
Next Page  260 / 292 Previous Page
Show Menu
Next Page 260 / 292 Previous Page
Page Background

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

In my opinion, it is likely that the word


was originally

onomatopoeic, that is, it contained a “parallelism between the sounds

of the word and the sounds to which the meaning of the word refers”.


However, two interrelated factors make it difficult for modern Hebrew

speakers to identify its onomatopoeic origin:


first factor

stems from the difference between the sounds that

were produced by the tattooing methods of the ancient world and those of

the modern world. Every act of tattooing involves the penetrating of color

into the skin, that is, the skin must somehow be wounded; and this may

be accomplished by perforating it with a sharp tool like a needle or a blade.

The perforation itself does not necessarily make a sound, but in one of the

tattooing methods of the past, the needle was adjoined to a stick, and the

tattoo artist would tap that stick over and over again with another stick

in order for the needle to scratch the skin, thus producing tapping sounds

like ‘tatata’ or ‘qaqaqa’. That is, if we accept the assumption that the word


was originally onomatopoeic, those were the sounds it mimicked at

the time of its formation.

In order to fully understand the manner in which the word imitated

these sounds, we must also address the

second factor

that makes it

difficult for Hebrew speakers today to identify its onomatopoeic origin:

the difference between the sounds that the letters




( and





represented in Biblical Hebrew and today; those being the letters that spell

the Hebrew word




). The common belief is that the letter


represented a more posterior consonant than it does today, and more

importantly, the letter


marked a consonant, not a vowel like it does



If we consider that the biblical word


had four consonants

rather than two as in its modern pronunciation, then the biblical word

contained a better parallelism between its sounds and the tapping sounds

which it mimicked.

The existence of an onomatopoeic word to designate tattoos is not

unique to Biblical Hebrew. The Haitian word


, which is also the origin

of the English word ‘tattoo’, was also said to have mimicked the sounds

made by the act of tattooing: “The word


was adopted by the natives