Babel (was Re: Dutch Treat (1885))

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Thu Nov 7 19:26:58 UTC 2002

In a message dated 11/7/02 10:40:46 AM Eastern Standard Time,
mam at THEWORLD.COM writes:

> Is "babble" < Greek? How about "Babel" in Genesis, as an assonance or
>  folk etymology with (the city-name we know as) "Babylon"? The prima
>  facie evidence for onomatopoeia seems fairly good. How widespread is
>  this one worldwide?

Gee, I always thought "babble" came from the Tower of Babel legend, but
MWCD10 says "ME babelen, prob. of imit. origin" and dates it as 13th Century.

"Babble" from Greek---if you assume it's from the Tower of Babel, then it
passed through the Greek-language Septuagint on its way from Hebrew to
English but has no other connection with Greek.

"Babel" comes from "Babylon"?  Unproven, as far as I know, but probably yes.
The Babylonian Gilgamesh cycle includes a version of Noah's flood, from which
we can conclude that the Israelites were familiar with Babylonian legends, or
vice versa, or that the Israelites and the Babylonians drew on a common
source for legends (it doesn't matter which).  In other words, the
Israelites, long before the Babylonican conquest, had some familiarity with
Babylonia and its most famous city, Babylon.

It has been suggested that the Tower of Babel legend is due to the Babylonian
ziggurats being interpreted by some non-Babylonian as an attempt to reach the
heavens.  Certainly ziggurats would be commonly associated with the city of

Note that Abraham is supposed to have come from "Ur of the Chaldees" which is
in Babylonia.  Also J (the woman who wrote the Adam and Eve story) when
mentioning the four rivers of Eden, feels the need to describe three of them
but assumes her audience knows what the Euphrates is.

>  The prima
>  facie evidence for onomatopoeia seems fairly good. How widespread is
>  this one worldwide?

You may be right about onomatopoeia but your suggested evidence is tricky.
If "babble" occurs in a number of languages, then it is probably due to the
Book of Genesis, which is known worldwide.  On the other hand, if "babble" is
restricted to English and maybe a handful of other languages, then you can
argue for onomatopoeia on the grounds that if such a well-known word escaped
from the Bible, it would be far more widespread.

       - Jim Landau

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