Wolf

🏷  German Greek Latin Semitic pun · symbol   —   by Gerry · Dec 2020 · 790 words

The wolf occurs rarely in Hebrew scripture, but fairly often in European fairy tales, where it often disguises itself. That may be because the European word wolf puns with Latin velifer for “veiled”. Latin lupus also puns with Greek lopos for “shell”.

Semitic k-zˀb “as a wolf” punning with “liar”

Wolves occur rarely in the Old Testemant, presumably because the word had few suitable spooky puns.

One of the more curious wolf occurences is in the 12 tribes riddle, where Benjamin is said to be a wolf (Genesis 49:27). The character is not a literal wolf, of course, but the verse means that he is like a wolf. KJV even translates “as a wolf”. If we were to spell it out in Hebrew, the phrase would be k-zˀb, meaning “as a wolf”, which puns with kzb for “lying” & “falsehood”. This corresponds to Ben-Yamin punning with bn-myn, which also means “liar”, because myn is a rare Semitic term for “lying” & “fabrication”.

Since the pun hinges on the implicit K, it’s an uncertain one.

Hebrew k-zˀb = like a wolf; kzb = falsehood, lying, liar

כ־ k- : as, like — Hebrew (Jastrow)

זאב zˀb : a wolf — Old Hebrew (Strong)

כזב kzb : a lie, falsehood, deceptive thing; liar, lies, lying — Old Hebrew (Strong)

Hebrew, Arabic myn = invent, fabricate, lying, liar

מין myn : to furrow, split; to invent, fabricate, lie; Arab. māna (= he split the earth in plowing; he thought out, invented), Ethiop. mīn (= deception) — Hebrew (Klein)

مین myn mayn : lying — Arabic (Richardson)

ميون mywn mayūn : a liar; lies — Arabic (Richardson)

Germanic wolf punning with Latin velifer for “veiled”

The wolf suddenly becomes very popular in European fairy tales. Since most ancient texts & stories are veiled puns about spookery, the reason is likely that the word wolf in European languages is similar to some spooky word.

I suggest it’s Germanic / English wolf punning with Latin velifer / velificor, which means “bearing sail”, but also “bearing veil”, since the word was the same: velum. The M is swallowed in the compound, which makes the pun work. As some tales are very old, the ancient spooks may have found even the Latin versions close enough, perhaps something like ve luporumveliferum.

We can indirectly confirm this pun with the many tales where the wolf in the story disguises himself. This has absolutely nothing to do with the actual animal, so it may well be a pun.

Latin veli-fer, veli-ficor = bear sail, bear veil

velifer : sail-bearing; From velum (“sail”) +‎ -fer (“carrying”) — Latin (Wikt)

velifico : sail, make sail — Latin (LSJ.gr)

velificor : make sail, spread sail, set sail; direct effort towards; wield the (billowing) veil — Latin (Wikt)

velum : the sail of a ship; a cloth, curtain, veil, awning — Latin (Wikt)

Latin lupus punning with Greek lopos for “shell”

Some parables about a disguised wolf may be older than proliferation of English or Germanic literature or vocabulary. The parable about a wolf in sheep’s clothing, where the wolf disguises himself as a sheep, is found already in the New Testament. A “wolf in sheep’s clothing” has even become a proverb in many languages.

This may be a multi-lingual pun from classical antiquity, of Latin lupus for “wolf”, with Greek lopos for “shell”. The New Testament contains much Roman & Greek vocabulary, so we can assume the Levantine elites spoke at least a bit of both languages. In either language of its own, the pun wouldn’t work.

(Another Latin-Greek wolf pun may be with lubeuo for “mockery”, but it doesn’t fit the sheepskin parable.)

Latin, Greek lupus = wolf; lopos = shell, husk

lupus : wolf — Latin (Wikt)

λοπός lopos : the shell, husk, peel — Ancient Greek (LSJ.gr)

λεπῐ́ς lepís : scale, flake, shell, husk — Ancient Greek (Wikt)

🏷  German Greek Latin Semitic pun · symbol