Language is a strange commodity. Sometimes there is within it a “play on words,” but at others there is no “play” but rather a mysterious, unexplained truth.
Let us take the example of Hamas, which according to the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York City research center, is “the largest, most influential political fundamentalist movement” in the Muslim world.
By one means or another, Hamas aims to convince the world of its deep desire to eliminate Israel, and establish there instead the 23rd religious Muslim state.
Hamas is an Arabic acronym for “Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya,” which means “The Islamic Resistance Movement.” But “hamas” is also an Arabic word that means “zeal.”
Although Arabic and Hebrew are sister languages, the Hebrew meaning of “chamas” is “violence,” according to the Hebrew-English volume of Reuben Alcalay’s Hebrew-English, English-Hebrew dictionary. “Cruelty” and “injustice” are additional definitions, but not “zeal.”
Truth is thus stranger than fiction. For Israel and for Jews everywhere, chamas indeed means violence, in its terrorist form.
A second curiosity of language: In Spanish the word “jamas” pronounced the same way as in Hebrew, means “ever” and “forever.” In their zeal to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth, a vow they regularly and ardently proclaim, Hamas terrorists leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that they will never ever cease their efforts to do so.
Such odd and curious word meanings, however frequently they occur, remain mysteries that are inexplicable, irrespective of language.
M artin H. Sable, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of Spanish and information science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; and former research professor at the University of California-Los Angeles Latin American Center.