Warning: Extensive nerdery ahead.
Last week’s Yaunsi Heresy episode (#07) required me to create a brand-new Hebrew noun. i wanted to reference the contact nodule in the Budge-Nuzzard, but there’s no such word as “nodule” in Hebrew.
Since a nodule is a round growth (like we get on our aspen trees around here—five thousand feet is not quite high enough for the poor things), i looked around for words that had to do with roundness or swelling. There were a few (mostly in Leviticus). But then i found a particular verb root—בעה, pronounced ba’ah—with a parsupplimous lexical range. It means to swell, boil, bulge, inquire—even to inquire of a prophet. Perfect! Now, how to make a noun out of a verb root? Easy, right? i mean, i have an 800-page syntax textbook here.
Well, it turns out that there’s about a billion ways to make a noun. There are several different ways to vocalize the three consonants of a verb root. Plus, there are also a few different prefix forms—all of which come with their own assortment of vocalizations. According to that 800-page textbook of mine, some vocalization patterns tend to be found in particular classes of nouns, such as occupations or abstractions. Two of the weirder categories are colors and sounds/noises. (!) Many of those patterns could be tossed right out.
After all this i still had a few options left, but finally (and with the help of not one but two professors), i settled on a mem-prefix form. (A mem is the letter that looks like a little cat: מ. It sounds just like our letter M.) This form is one of the more common ones and, according to said 800-page tome, is often used of instruments such as keys or knives. A contact nodule seemed to me to be right at home with that sort of device.
Done, right? Nope. Next problem: Vowels. Out of three consonants, two of mine were weak. This introduces two levels of vowel changes! And did i want a masculine or feminine noun? There are some reasons to prefer one over the other, but none seemed relevant in this case, so it was my choice. In the end, those weak consonants and their pesky vowel changes made the decision for me. Feminine it is. It would’ve taken too much trouble to figure out which vowel to use for a masculine version.
This whole process took about two weeks, but hinneh! Now there exists in the world a very flexible Hebrew word for “nodule.” Be assured that you will see it in action again in a later episode. 🙂
My brain has children. Mav’ah (מַבְעָה) is one of them.