E 0311 ETHIC

The word "ethic" is of Greek origin

H 0118 ע ד ו ת

Concept of root : proper usance

Hebrew word


English meanings

ע ד ו ת


law, precept

Related English words


Comparison between European words and Hebrew




English meanings

Similarity in roots


ע ד ו ת


rule, law, precept

‛e d


εθος ;


ethos ;


usance, custom, tradition

e th



Proto-Semitic *‛EDÀ --- *ETH-OS Greek



This Hebrew word and meaning are found in the Bible only. In modern Hebrew the same word says "testimony", which in the Bible is " ע ד ה , ed", but also simply " ע ד , d ."! In Post Biblical Hebrew the word " ‛edut " indicates the Decalogue and its testimony .
Greek "ethos" is one of those most succesful of the many words that have passed from that language into other European tongues.


This entry is related to number E 0312 (Hebrew 0114).


  • Greek and Hebrew. The difference between the Greek "TH" and the Hebrew "D" is interesting. In another group, the Germanic languages, we see how English changes many original consonants "D" into "TH". The sound is not always identical in such cases, and there are indeed many more or less subtle variations. But a "D" like this Hebrew one may become an aspired or blown dental as we see here in Greek.


  • Hebrew. The final dental T of " 'edut " is not part of the root, but a suffix. The difference between the other dental, that is "D", and the Greek "TH" , is not meaningful. Looking in West Germanic one sees English " door " being a " Tr " in German, and the pronunciation of this word in practice often sounds "Thr ". Also English "the" is the same word as Scandinavian and Dutch "de" and German "die". The same kind of shifts in sound occur between more distant languages like English and Hebrew.


  • Proto-Semitic. The root of this entry was certainly present in Proto-Semitic. Some believe that our word "‛edut" comes from a root with a Waw in it : "ע ו ד , ‛od", but that root carries the message of "to return, repeat, do again" and the semantic distance is considerable.


    More convincing is the relation with the root "ע ד , d". A complication is that this brief root is used in several concepts, such as eternity, perpetuity, witness, testimony, to count, ornament, pass by, assembly. One may well opt for the concept of "testimony" , which is as well a meaning of "‛edut" itself and of an other form, "ע ד ה , ‛ed", that was mentioned here above.


    A specific sister word is found in Akkadian "ad = commandments". Proto-Semitic probably had, in the sense of this entry, the root "*ע ד ה Ayin D H, ( with H indicating an accentuated vowel)".


  • Malay. Just for the record, the Malay word for "obligatory custom " is "adat". This must be considered a fortuity of course.


  • Greek gives a very important example of how a word may develop, here from " thos " to the more open pronunciation of " thos ". The meaning has not really changed, but this second version also acquired extra meanings, such as "character, personality" and " customary place". This kind of development can be compared with what is seen in Hebrew when an initial vowel (Aleph, א ) is emphasized by a preceding NG-like guttural stop (Ayin, ע ).


  • Indo-European. An existing theory proposes an Indo-European "*swedh-". This is based on various hypotheses, such as Latin "sodalis" from "*suedhalis" and Greek "ethos" from ""swethos". The Indo-European "*swedh-" is then seen as a composition of "*s(u)e- = ones own" and "*dhē- = to do, put", together meaning "to do one's own thing". The odd aspect of this theory is the contradiction between "to do one's own thing" and "to do what the community requires". It has to be skipped.


    The Old Indian word "svadhâ" that besides other meanings also says "custom, rule, law" does not give much support to the just mentioned theory. The first part, "sva", refers to the nearest subject, not basically to the acting person. The second part, "dhâ", combines a great deal of messages, such as found in English "to put, set, place, lay" that are not centered around the basic concepts of "to do, act". Consequently "svadhâ" is also translated as "self-determination, home, ease, pleasure". For "in one's own way" there exist extended forms like "svadháya" and "svadhâbhih".


    It must be remarked that the mentioned Latin word "sodalis" means "comrad, friend", possibly derived from "travel companion". It has little if anything at all to do with the concept of "custom, habit".


    Consequently we have no viable hypothesis for Indo-European outside Greek.





Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: 22/12/2012 at 13.46.07