Sunday, January 01, 2006

Chanukka: The etymology of sufganiyot

This is admittedly silly, and probably obvious to some, but what is the etymology of sufganiyot (jelly donuts eaten on Chanukka)?

The answer: from sponge, in that it is something which absorbs (oil, I guess). We see this root spg in Hebrew, and in the gemara - one of the more famous examples is sofeg et ha'arbaim, which means that he is lashed 40 (=39) times, that is, he absorbs the 40.

About sponge: According to the American Heritage Dictionary (cited at, the etymology is:
[Middle English, from Old English, from Latin spongia, from Greek spongi, from spongos.]

According to Easton's 1987 Bible dictionary (also cited at, the word
"occurs only in the narrative of the crucifixion (Matt. 27:48; Mark 15:36; John 19:29). It is ranked as a zoophyte. It is found attached to rocks at the bottom of the sea."

What about that n? Shouldn't it be spoge if it is the same root as sofeg? Well, in Greek, doubled gamma is pronounced ng. My favorite example of this is the word angel which is spelled gamma gamma rather than nu gamma.

To take the first Christian verse mentioned by the Bible dictionary (scroll down to 48):
kai euqewV dramwn eiV ex autwn kai labwn spoggon plhsaV te oxouV kai periqeiV kalamw epotizen auton.

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