Semitic word root √dbr

🏷  word root · etymology   —   by Gerry · Sep 2018 · 908 words

The Semitic root √dbr has the basic meaning of “following” or “ordering”, in a very wide sense. The most important meaning is “words” & “things”, as words “follow” the things they denote. Another meaning is “leader” & “guide”, as they make people “follow”. Many other things that follow or come behind are named with this root, most famously bees.


The most important and most widely known meaning of √dbr is “words” & “things”, as words “follow” the things they denote. A special meaning is also “legal matters” or “business matters”.

Hebrew dbr = words, things

דבר dbr dabar : to speak — Old Hebrew (Strong)

דבר dbr dabar : speech, word — Old Hebrew (Strong)

דבר dbr dabar : matter, affair, thing about which one speaks — Old Hebrew (Strong)

דבר‏ dbr‏ diber : to speak (say words) — Hebrew (Wikt)

דבר‏ dbr : word, speech; matter, affair; business, occupation; something, anything — Hebrew (Klein)

Aramaic dbr = words

דבר‏ dbr : to speak — Aramaic (CAL)

Phoenician dbr = words

דבר dbr : speak — Phoenician (Strong)

Akkadian dbb = words

dibbu(m) : words, utterance; talk, rumour, matter; legal claims — Akkadian (Black)

dibbu : words, utterance; talk, rumour, matter / subject; (legal) claims — Akkadian (AAF)

dabābu : (idle) talk, blathering; inscription on bed, contents of a letter or a document — Akkadian (AAF)


Another meaning of √dbr, almost lost in Hebrew, but strongly pronounced in Aramaic, is “leadership”, which is the passive & causative, i.e. a leader is the one “being followed”, and the one “making people follow”.

(In standardized textbook grammar, the causative & passive would be denoted by special prefixes & infixes. But with very common words, the main relationship seems to be implied & understood without any extra grammar.)

Hebrew dbr = leadership

דבר dbr : leader, guide; JAram. דַּבָּר, דַּבָּרָא, Syr. דָּבוּרָא, nomen opificis from דְּבַר (= he led, guided; see דבר ᴵᴵ) — Hebrew (Klein)

דבר dbr : leader — Hebrew (Jastrow)

דברות dbrwt : leadership — Hebrew (Klein)

דבר dbr : to join, arrange, lead (the flock); to converse, speak; to hold communion, converse; being on terms of intimacy with a man; to make submissive, persuade — Hebrew (Jastrow)

דבר dbr : to seize, take, lead, drive; to conduct one’s self; to lead, drive; to be seized, taken away — Hebrew (Jastrow)

דבר dbr dabar : word of command — Old Hebrew (Strong)

דובר dwbr dover : speaker (of a language); spokesman — Hebrew (Wikt)

Aramaic dbr = leadership, management

דבר dbr dabar : lead, guide, cattle, sheep, government, take a wife; Aramaic דְּבַר; Syriac ܕܒܰܪ — Aramaic (Strong)

דבר dbr : leader, guide — Aramaic (CAL)

דבר dbr : to lead, to drive; to plow; to take as wife; to lead, shepherd sheep, drive a conveyance, take control of; to give precedence, treat as leader; be taken, be led away — Aramaic (CAL)

דבר dbr : to be taken, to be led away; to be led, guided, be dragged — Aramaic (CAL)

דברי dbry : leader — Aramaic (CAL)

דברן dbry : speaker — Aramaic (CAL)

דברא dbrˀ : leading, driving, managing; movement, agitation; plowing, tilling; cultivation — Aramaic (Wikt)

דבר dbr : to lead — Aramaic (Wikt)

Arabic dbr = leadership, management

دَبَّرَ dabbara : to arrange, to dispose, to plan, to prepare, to organize; to hatch (a plot), to contrive; to direct, to manage, to regulate — Arabic (Wikt)

تَدْبِير tadbīr : arrangement; administration; government; politics, policy — Arabic (Wikt)

Something following behind

The general meaning of “following” is found with many things that somehow come “behind” something else: floats are “towed behind”, pastures and deserts are “hinterland”, an epidemic plague “leaves people behind” dead, and an inner sancuary is hidden “behind walls”.

Hebrew dbr = things following behind

דברות dbrwt doberah : floats, rafts — Old Hebrew (Strong)

דבר dbr dober : pasture, fold — Old Hebrew (Strong)

מדבר mdbr midbar : desert, wilderness — Old Hebrew (Strong)

דבר dbr deber : pestilence, plague — Old Hebrew (Strong)

דביר dbyr debir : inner sanctuary — Old Hebrew (Strong)

Arabic dbr = things following behind

دَبَرَ dabara : to be hindmost, to come behind, to follow — Arabic (Wikt)

دَبَّرَ dubur : back, back side, reverse; buttocks; rear part; end, tail — Arabic (Wikt)

Ugaritic dbr = things following behind

𐎄𐎁𐎗 dbr : hinterland; naos (inner part of the temple); holy of holies — Ugaritic (Wikt)

Akkadian dbr = things following behind

dibiru : calamity — Akkadian (Black)

dibiru : a calamity, a plague, serious trouble, a catastrophy — Akkadian (AAF)

The meaning of √dbr as “inner sanctuary” even exists even in Egyptian as a Semitic loanword.

Egyptian dbr = inner sanctuary

𓂧𓃀𓅡𓄿𓏭𓂋𓆱𓏤𓉐 dbr : shrine of the gods, naos (Semitic loan word) — Egyptian (TLA)

Bees, wasps, hornets

Bees as deborah also belong to the √dbr group.

It’s unclear how this evolved. Some authors speculate it’s because bees are “led” by a queen, but since the queen is just their mother, I’m not sure ancient people would have seen it that way. It may simply be that these insects “follow” each other in swarms, or are “ordered” in some way. Some authors also derive the bees from the “words” meaning, pointing to the humming sound of insects.

Aramaic דַּבַּרְתָא, Hebrew דְּבוֺרָה swarm of bees, may be in this line, as led by their queen

Brown-Driver-Briggs 1696: דָבַר dabar = to speak

Bees overlap with wasps & hornets in some Semitic dialects, so “swarming” in the sense of “following” each other may be the common denominator here.

Akkadian dpr = swarm

dapāru : to frequent, to swarm, to teem, to abound — Akkadian (AAF)

Aramaic dbr, zbr = bee, wasp, hornet

דבורה dbwrh debbōrā : bee; wasp — Aramaic (CAL)

זיבור zybwr zibbūr : hornet — Aramaic (CAL)

Hebrew dbr = bee

דבורה dbwrh deborah : bee — Old Hebrew (Strong)

Arabic dbr, zbr = wasp, hornet

دَبُّور dabbūr : wasp, hornet — Arabic (Wikt)

زُنْبُور zunbūr : hornet — Arabic (Wikt)

🏷  word root · etymology