Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

The Humus-Human Connection

Mark Nazimova’s comments on our recent Good Word exhume, I thought, are worth preserving, so here they are for your edification and pleasure:

“For exhume, you noted that ‘The root here, hum-, seems to have originally referred to earth or dirt but also turns up in humanus ‘human, kind’. This suggests that our earliest forefathers perceived humans as originating in the soil.'”

“You might be interested in knowing that in Hebrew adam, which means ‘person or man’ and is the source of the name Adam, is closely related to adamah, which means ‘soil, earth’. It is the same concept as the creation story which Genesis Chapter 2 makes clear: ‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’. Admittedly, the creation story in Chapter 1 is different, omitting the earthy connection.”

“There are other creation stories in the ancient near east, and possibly elsewhere for that matter, that associate the origin of humankind with the soil or ground. There’s the Greek myth of Deucallion throwing rocks over his shoulder, which became men, and Pyrrha throwing rocks over her shoulder, which became women…would that count? I think there’s also a Sumerian version of this story, in which gods throw rocks over their shoulders, which become people.”

“Then there’s the Sumerian or Akkadian myth that Marduk created people by killing Qingu and mixing Qingu’s blood with clay.”

The root in exhume turns up in other words, too. Mike Szczepanik pointed out that this is the same root that we find in humble and humility—not to mention humus. Once Latin had changed it to homo, hominis “man”, it went on to become homage, homicide, not to mention French homme and Spanish hombre.

This certainly is a remarkable word that has covered a lot of territory in the past 5 millennia.  My next blog will relate a story about exhumation from New Zealand that may surprise you if you live somewhere else.

One Response to “The Humus-Human Connection”

  1. Propf. Dan Yaalon Says:

    The HUMUS – HUMAN – HOMO connection sounds fine. In conformity with the Hebrew Adama – Adam. Who was the first or early writer or scientist to expand on this ? On the other hand the connection of HUMBLE and HUMILITY to this seems less believable. On what grounds ? Is there a possibility of a different root connection ? Please respond.

    [DHY – A Jerusalem earth scientist now also dabbling in history of science]

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