The Talmud frequently calls an individual a "boor". Two examples:

It has been reported: If one has learned Tanach and Mishnah but not Talmud, Rabbi Eleazar says he is an ignoramus [am ha-aretz]; Rabbi Shmuel ben Nahmani says he is a boor; Rabbi Yannai says he is a Samaritan [rejects sources beyond Torah]; Rabbi Aha ben Yaakov says he is a magician [who misleads others with illusions]. [Sotah 22a]

And one who recites the blessing on any of the mitzvot mentioned in the Torah may not answer 'amen' after himself; and if he does answer 'amen' he is a boor. [Berachot Y 58b]

The Hebrew for 'boor'is also 'boor' -- בור, bet-vav-resh, vocalized BOOR.

Yet this is not the origin of the English word "boor". The dictionary says:

Boor: noun: 1-a churlish, rude, or unmannerly person; 2-a country bumpkin; rustic; yokel; 3-peasant; 4-Boer; Origin: 1545-55; Dutch boer; or Low German bur; (cognate with German Bauer -- farmer), derivative of Germanic to dwell, build, cultivate.

The Arabic word for "boor"is also "boor" -- بور.

Question: Are the facts that the English "boor", the Hebrew בור and the Arabic بور sound identical and mean the same thing just a coincidence?


1 Answer 1


It's just a coincidence.

The Hebrew and Arabic words come from a root B-W-R "to lie fallow"; compare the Arabic verbs بَوَّرَ (bawwara) and بَارَ (baara). The metaphor of "thoughts = crops" isn't an uncommon one, so if someone isn't having any thoughts, their mind is metaphorically lying fallow.

The English word is borrowed from Dutch (compare "Boer", as in a descendant of Dutch colonists in South Africa, from the same source). The Dutch word means "farmer" and is cognate with German Bauer, archaic English "bower" (both meaning "farmer"). The older meaning of the root, reconstructed for Proto-Germanic and Proto-Indo-European, is something like "to dwell", which is how we get English "neighbor" (the first half is equivalent to archaic English "nigh", meaning "near, close at hand": so a neighbor is someone who dwells nearby). In this case, the metaphor was "stupid people are like farmers (and not like us, the wealthy, cultured elite)".

As you can see, the majority of the forms from these roots have nothing in common. It's pure coincidence that Hebrew/Arabic buur and English "boor" have drifted close to each other, and their meanings still aren't quite the same—if I understand right, the Semitic words are about lack of intelligence, while the English word is about lack of refinement or schooling.

  • 3
    Once a negative creeps in, practically any other negative evaluation can be attached; humans tend to group their grievances. I am reminded of a Yiddish story that starts off "Az me dartseylt a mayse a poyer, lakht er dray mol" - When you tell a story to a peasant, he laughs three times: the first time when you tell it, the second when you explain it, and the third when he understands it. Peasants are frequent epitomes of stupidity in jokes.
    – jlawler
    Jun 7, 2019 at 13:52

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