E 0019 A I R

The English word "air" comes from Old French

H 0092 א ו י ר

Concept of root: air

Hebrew word


English meanings

א ו י ר



Related English words


Comparison between European words and Hebrew




English meanings

Similarity in roots


ר י ו א



aw . r


aer, aera

aer, aera




αηρ *αFερ

ar *awr



Middle Dutch




w . r

Old Norse



air; lower layer of air (near the ground); weather; wind

w . ðr



Hebrew *AWIR < Proto-Semitic "*AWER --- *WĒR Indo-European



This word is a very important one, as it is a basic one for the environment , the air one breathes. It must have been significant for humans to create a word for that air, because if it lacks, death arrives . The similarity between the abovementioned three groups of languages is strong. This entry is related to number E 989 (Hebrew 0093) , with the word "weather".


In all considerations about the origin of the words "air" and Hebrew "awir", it is important to note that there are words for "air" and "weather" with or without a central dental. Greek distinguishes between the meaning of "aer" and "aithr". The first is the air at lower level, the second the one at higher level. A further distinction is that the lower level is the air we breathe, whereas the higher level is seen as the one where weather is created and where for example the Gods live. Part of this lived on as we see in Old Norse also the meaning of "the lower level of the air".


Later on the distinction was mostly lost, at least in Germanic languages. Examples of words for "weather" without central dental consonant are found in Norwegian "vr", Frisian "waar", Middle Dutch and Dutch "weer" besides "weder", Danish "vejr" and especially in Old Danish "veyer", a word that hardly could have originated from a contraction of one with dental.


  • With or without dental . As seen here under, Proto-Germanic probably had "*W E R-" and besides this already "*W E D E R-". There may have been a distinction in meaning between the two, with "*W E R-" standing for "air" and "W E D E R" for "weather". Also in Greek we have seen a distinction between "ar = the air around us, that we breathe" and "aithr= the higher layers of air, where the weather has its origin." This opens the way for a hypothesis that already in Indo European there was an original "*W e R-", meaning "air" and a later form with an added central dental,"*W e TH e R", leading to the meaning of "weather". In this context it must be remarked that the initial vowel "A" in Greek, as in Hebrew, was an added prefix to an existing root "*W e R", an athroistic prefix that did not change the meaning of the word.


    Is Hebrew "awir" a loanword from Greek ? This Hebrew word " awir " often is seen as a loanword, from Greek " αηρ, ar" = "mist, vapour, air" used also to say " climate" and " colour of the sky ( blue or gray)". "Awir" is then consequently defined as Post Biblical Hebrew , indicating thus the timing of a possible borrowing.


    We cannot fully exclude this, but the loanword supposition has many weak points. First, it fails to explain the presence of the letter Waw in " awir ".
    It should be known, as seen in the above Table, that Greek "ar" undoubtedly comes from an older form "awr" . Both versions can be found in Homerus . Perhaps on account of this some scholars indicate "avir" as "avr". The meaning of "ar " in Homerus is described as "the lower and more dense layer of the atmosphere " as distinguished from " αιθηρ , aithr" that indicates the more higher and thinner part of the atmosphere, in which the meteorological events are developed.


    In this context it is very interesting to read in entry E0898 (Hebrew 0093), that the specific meaning of "lower part of the air, near the ground", besides that of "air" and "weather" and "tempest (as a specific kind of weather) is also found in Old Norse. The distinction between the version with and without a central dental is not so clear as is the case in Greek, but it may have been present.


    One may further observe that if Hebrew "awir" comes from Greek "ar", it has in the act of borrowing extended its meaning to comprehend also the higher atmosphere . Usually a word is loaned as it offers the possibility to better express in the loaning language the precise concept it has in its original language . This is not the case here, which puts another question mark .



    Hebrew, like other languages, must have had a basic need for a word saying "air". The usual Hebrew word for "air" is "ruagh", but this specific meaning already in Biblical Hebrew is just one out of very many, like "breath", "blow" "wind", "emptiness", "void", "soul", "spirit", "mental disposition", "thought", "character". Furthermore the word "ruagh" usually is seen as based on or related to the root "resh, waw, ghet", that indicates "wideness, space, spreading, enlarging", besides "to smell, taste, like".


    The main and unresolved problem with the loanword thesis remains that it is not clear how come Hebrew, upon borrowing "ar" from Greek , would have re-introduced a letter Waw that had been abolished from the Greek word long before the Classic period. It is true that the word "awir" is not found in the Bible, but however rich in words the Bible is, it is not impossible that there were more words in Hebrew than are found written . This is confirmed by the reality that many hundreds of existing words in the Bible are so called "hapax phenomena", which means that they occur only once in the whole Bible. There will be at least as many Hebrew words that existed and were spoken and written, but do not appear even once in the written texts that were brought to our times. For these reasons there remain doubts and the word " avir " must be maintained in our list of similarities that can indicate a common origin .


    One may remark further, that some scholars see a relation of Greek "awr" with the Hebrew root "א ב ר, Aleph, B R ", that amongst others has also given Biblical meanings like " to fly, soar ", ways of moving through the air . Adding that the Hebrew pronunciation of the letters Beth, ב and Waw, ו , in the same position between vowels is about identical, both sounding like English W , we have a further indication that " avir " may well be of old Hebrew origin .


  • Middle Dutch. A very important contribution we find in Middle Dutch with the word "weer", that together with the word "weder" continued into modern Dutch with the common meaning "weather". But "weer" in Middle Dutch also still had the meaning of "air". Obviously this "weer" cannot have been developed in some way out of Latin "aer" , but is a genuine sister word of it. The meaning "air" for "weer" is remarkable as in general roots with another root have monopolized this meaning, as seen in German "Luft" and Dutch "lucht".


  • Old Norse. Even more significant is Old Norse with its various meanings: : 1. air. 2. lower part of the air, near the earth. 3. weather.4 wind, tempest.


  • Proto-Germanic. The "TH" in English "weather" is a development out of a "D" . The same goes for German "Wetter". Proto-Germanic probably had "*W E R-" and besides this already "*W E D E R-". There may have been a distinction in meaning between the two, with "*W E R-" standing for "air" and "W E D E R-" for "weather".


  • Proto-Semitic. Unless "awir" would yet be a loanword from Greek, the presence of "avir = air" in Hebrew and " avir' = air, open space" in Aramaic, allows a hypothesis for Proto-Semitic : "* א ו ר, Aleph W R" or possibly "* א ב ר, Aleph B R ".


  • Greek. As shown, the Greek word "ar" started out with having a "waw", in this case a "W", between its two vowels. Interesting is that in the word "air", in the next note, there is this letter "I" which may very well be reminiscent of the disappeared letter "waw". Often this "W" has developed into an "I" or "Y".


  • Greek. There is a certain belief that these words for "air" have been derived from a word meaning "to lift : "αιρώ (air)". We believe it is the other way about. Greek has developed "air" from "aer", or rather from its predecessor "awr". When we lift or raise something, we do so "in the air", where else normally ? So the verb "air" is like to take something into the air. In a somewhat different sense English does so with the verb "to air".


    One should also remark that the English verb "to lift" comes from a comparable development. Old Germanic said "*luftjan" from "luftuz" for "air" and Old Norse had "lupta" from "lopt" for "air". And the German word for air is "Luft". We have seen as well another misunderstanding, in which that Germanic word "luftuz (air)" would have meant "roof of the world", because, as the reasoning goes : A supposed Indo-European root "*leup", meaning to peel off, would have given the word "leaf". A hypothetical Germanic word "*laubja" would be a "roof made from barks", from there "shelter". Subsequently in Old Frankish , still hypothetical, "cloister".


    Then Medieval Latin would have absorbed this Frankish word, leading from "laubia" for monastic cloister also to English "lobby". But one goes further: Sanskrit "loptra" for "booty" would come from "that which is stripped off", thus leading to English "boot". We will abstain from comment on this , apart from remarking that "Early Man" may have seen the heaven as a kind of roof, but not the air he breathed.


  • Greek and Latin also have a couple of words, derived from the above, meaning a "gust" or "blast". These are : "αυρα (aura)" and the identical Latin "aura". Often it is believed that these Latin words come from similar Greek ones. With the word "aer" this does not seem the case.


  • Indo-European. We quote here our Note from entry E 989 (Hebrew 0093). The distinction in meanings specified in Greek between words with or without dental and the partial correspondence found in Old Norse give an indication that this may have existed already in Indo-European.


    Slavic has an Old Church Slavonic "vĕtrŭ = weather". Then there are, besides abovementioned Russian "ветер, weter = wind", Ukrainian "védro and Russian ведро, wodro ( Old Russian ведро, vedro), that stand for "fine weather".


    Baltic offers interesting words in Old Prussian "wetro> = wind", Latvian and Lithuanian "vātra; vétra = storm".


    Indo-European may have used a combination "* *W Ē D Ĕ R for meanings related to the air and the weather. For words without a central dental and a meaning of "air, lower layer of air" we have little information besides Greek and Germanic, but there may have been a form "*W Ē R-" in Indo-European.





Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: 21/12/2012 at 16.52.24