Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

The etymology of voting

Lehatzbea. Photo courtesy of lauramusikanski, from morguefile.com
Lehatzbea. Photo courtesy of lauramusikanski, from morguefile.com

As I write this, early voting for US elections begins today in the state of Georgia. The concept of voting had me thinking about the words we use. In Hebrew, all words boil down to root letters, and often different words come from the same root. Here, we have some interesting relationships. To vote is lehatzbea (לְהַצְבִּיעַ). Its three-letter root is tzadi – vet – ayin.

While a vote is a hatzba’ah (הַצְבָּעָה), the conjugated verb is matzbea (מַצְבִּיעַ). This word also means to point (the word for finger is etzba, אצבע). This makes sense, since you can raise a hand or point to something to vote for it.

As my Facebook feed fills with pictures of people waiting one, two, even four hours at the polls, I am thrilled to see their determination…and glad we will be taking our absentee ballots to drop off ballot boxes today to exercise our right to point to whom we want in office.

But what I find really interesting are other words with the same root, which though related to each other, have very different meanings.

The word for color or paint is tzeva (צֶבַע). As opposed to lehatzbea, Its infinitive form is litzboa (לִצְבּוֹעַ). If something is colorful, it is tzivoni (צבעוני) and something that is colored is tzavua (צבוע).

How can we tie that to voting? Are politicians or political groups colorful, do they offer different shades to point to or pick from?

Most interestingly, tzavua has two other meanings. Hyena. Hmmm. What do we do with that? Wikipedia notes that hyenas are considered “frightening and worthy of contempt.” Hmmm…

While it could be fun to tie that to the people we vote for or the way politicians are trying to shake faith in the voting process, I don’t know that we can really connect hyena to voting.

But perhaps even more directly relevant is its other meaning, hypocritical. That could easily work with many politicians we know, I’d say.

So, if we take a look at Hebrew, we see we have voting, color and paint, hyenas and hypocrisy all stemming from the same root. Who would have thought? And perhaps more interestingly, who can put them all into one sentence?

ROOT WORDS Screenshot taken from the website Hebrew 

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Lawn Guyland, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta since returning to the U.S. in 2003. Recently remarried, this Ashkenazi mom and MIL to three Mizrahi sons and a DIL in their 20s splits her time between managing knowledge in corporate America, pursuing a dual masters in public administration and integrated global communications, relentlessly Facebooking, enjoying the arts and trying to bring a wider perspective to the topics she covers while blogging.
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