The Hebrew for "air" is אוויר avir, earlier awīr or awēr. This is obviously a borrowing of the Greek word that appears in Attic as ἀήρ, and would be ἀϝήρ in other dialects. The Hebrew word must have been borrowed from a Greek dialect that retained intervocalic digamma, but which dialect?

Klein's etymological dictionary of Hebrew simply says "from Greek" without specifying further. There were numerous dialects in which intervocalic digamma survived. Do we know, or can we plausibly guess, which dialect was the source of this loanword?

  • Very interesting; I would have immediately thought Koine (post-Alexander) but that wouldn't have a digamma either.
    – Draconis
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 1:12
  • +1 Indeed, apparently in the Hebrew Bible the "air" is referred to as "skies/heaven" (shamayim.)
    – Roger V.
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 14:51

1 Answer 1


The Greek ἀήρ seems to have entered (post-Biblical) Hebrew via Aramaic ʼwwyr. Syriac Aramaic also has the more Greek-looking form ʼʼr. The replacement of an intervocalic glottal stop by a semi-vowel (here: ʼāʼer > ʼāwer) is typical of Aramaic, and other Semitic languages.

  • 1
    The replacement of an internal glottal stop with a semi-vowel seems reasonable enough, but the choice of [w] in this environment seems counter-intuitive. I should have expected something like [ʔajer] instead. Are other examples of this?
    – varro
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 16:18
  • @varro. As it happens, Mandaic Aramaic has this word as ʼyʼr, for /āyar/.
    – fdb
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 16:49
  • Interesting -- so the w is an accidental similarity... Like varro, I'm curious about the odd change VʔV > VwV. Is it regular in Aramaic?
    – TKR
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 18:42
  • @TKR. E.g. Syriac active participle pāʾeḵ¸but imperative poḵ.
    – fdb
    Commented May 15, 2019 at 10:02

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