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Lethargic Man (anag.)

Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2005-06-15 23:16
Subject: Etymological detective work needed.
Security: Public
Tags:linguistics geekery
The Collins Concise English Dictionary gives the etymology of "pitta" as a Greek word for a cake; Jastrow's Dictionary of the Talmud (etc) gives פיתא pita as the Aramaic of Hebrew פת pat, a piece of bread (and the Encyclopaedia Judaica gives פַת becoming פִיתָה as an example of vowel transformation in Hebrew). The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology has nothing to say on the subject, neither does the Oxford English Dictionary (first edition).

Can anyone resolve this conundrum and tell me whether the English word really does come from Hebrew, or Greek, or the Greek from the Hebrew, or whether we're looking at two unrelated words that just happen to sound the same and have similar meaning?

[Update: More information on Balashon—thanks, Dave!]
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A zero-width positive lookahead assertion
User: pseudomonas
Date: 2005-06-15 22:54 (UTC)
Subject: OED 2nd ed:
[ad. mod.Gr. {pi} {ghacu} {tau} {tau} {alpha} , {pi} {giacu} {tau} (
{tau} ) {alpha} bread, cake, pie, perh. f. Gr. {pi} {epsilon} {pi}
{tau} - {goacu} {fsigma} cooked, f. {pi} {geacu} {sigma} {sigma}
{epsilon} {iota} {nu} , {pi} {geacu} {tau} {tau} -, to cook, bake. Cf.
Turk. pide, Heb. pittah in similar senses.]

copy/pasted from lynx, so a bit ugly.
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Jen Taylor Friedman
User: hatam_soferet
Date: 2005-06-16 00:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My guess is that it comes from Greek, on account of how in Greek it has a verb associated with it, and rabbinic Hebrew doesn't. A slight difficulty with that is that you find it in Bereshit (18:5 eg), so if one thinks Bereshit is pre-Greece, one must conclude it's originally Hebrew. Then again, maybe Hebrew and Greek both borrowed it from the Aramaic jumble and it belongs to someone else entirely.
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User: hairyears
Date: 2005-06-16 01:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

A quick flick through the Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary gives this:


piṭa m. or n.
  • a basket, box L
  • a roof L
  • a sort of cupboard or granary made of bamboos or canes W

On the whole I'm reluctant to call that a 'root' for Pitta bread; spurious links and similarities are the daily diet of an etymologist, and I'd need evidence of a geographical distribution of the word, or plausible congeners in the Indo-panetic language family, leading from India to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Anyone out there know enough Egyptian or Coptic to make a stab at P'tah before we go any further? Or Babylonian, for that matter: an agricultural or culinary word occurring in Arameic might well have been first uttered in the fertile crescent when cereal cultivation began. Some words are old.

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