Etymology of Modern Hebrew: People and the Environment

Hebrew words are built upon root letters—known as a shoresh (שׁוֹרֶשׁ)—and are formed in such ways where small changes can create many different but related meanings.

In collaboration with Adam Teva v’Din, Israel’s leading environmental sustainability non-profit organization, we’ve picked a few environment-related words and important topics to explore. Take a look—there just might be a few words and ideas that already are second “nature” for you, and of course new ones, too!

A Partnership Between


Adam (אָדָם)

Adam (אָדָם), as well as being a biblical (and modern) name, means man, or a person. Ben adam (בֶּן אָדָם)—or in plural, b’nei adam (בְּנֵי אָדָם)—means people or humans. The word adama (אֲדָמָה), meaning ground, soil, or land also shares this root. This root also relates to colors. Adom (אָדוֹם) means red. Ademet (אַדֶּמֶת) is the Hebrew term for German measles or rubella which often cause reddish rash. And finally, the Hebrew name for the Red Planet, Mars, is ma’adim (מַאֲדִים).


Photo Credit: Yoav Dothan

  • What might be the connection between the word ‘man’ or ‘people’ and ‘ground’? Hint, consider the events of creation as described at the start of the Torah in the book of Bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית), or Genesis.
  • The Biblical figures of David and Esau are both called admoni (אַדְמוֹנִי, “reddish”). What might that signify? Is there any connection between each of them and the ground?


Teva (טֶבַע)


This root forms the base for teva (טֶבַע), which means nature, as well as many other related words. Tiv’i (טִבְעִי), means natural, and tivoni (טִבְעוֹנִי) is a someone who is a vegan.

Perhaps less obviously related is the word taba’at (טַבַּעַת) which means ring, or matbe’a (מַטְבֵּעַ) which is a coin. The word l’hatbia (לְהַטְבִּיעַ) means to mint a coin. It also means to drown, sink, or even dunk in basketball.


Photo Credit: Zachi Evenor

  • What is the connection between nature and veganism?
  • What might be the link between nature and coins or rings?
  • Is there a connection between ‘dunking a basketball’ and a ring? What about drowning or sinking?


Cham (חַם)


While this root has three letters, one main word coming from it has just two: cham (חַם), which means hot. Closely related are the words chom (חוֹם), a fever, and madchom (מַדְחוֹם), a thermometer.

When we heat something we say l’chamem (לְחַמֵּם), and chamim (חַמִּים) means warm or cozy. If we were growing plants we would grow them in a chamamah (חֲמָמָה), a greenhouse. We can use the same word to talk about the greenhouse effect, efekt ha’chamama (אֶפֶקְט הַחֲמָמָה), in which in which the sun’s heat is trapped by greenhouses gasses, causing hit’chamemoot globalit (הִתְחַמְּמוּת גְּלוֹבָּלִית), global warming.

Photo Credit: Dror Artzi-Joni

  • Why does it make sense for the Hebrew words for heat, greenhouse, and global warming to share the same root?


Sviva (סְבִיבָה)


Just like our last root, the root ס-ב-ב sometimes appears as two letters and other times as three. The word sevev (סֶבֶב) is a round or a turn and l’histovev (לְהִסְתּוֹבֵב) means to turn around or to wander around. Coming back to the environmental-related words, sviva (סְבִיבָה) means surroundings or environment. On Chanukkah, many kids play with a sevivon (סְבִיבוֹן) which translates as a spinning top—though the Yiddish term dreidel may sound more familiar.

Photo Credit: Wallpaperkiss

  • What is the link between turning around and the environment? Why might those words share the same root?


Chosen (aklim)   (חוֹסֶן (אַקְלִים


The word l’chasen (לְחַסֵּן) means to strengthen or to vaccinate. Closely related is chisoon (חִיסּוּן), a vaccination. In a similar vein, chosen (חוֹסֶן), which means strength or power, also refers to resilience (i.e., climate resilience). A machsan (מַחְסָן) is storage or a warehouse.

Climate resilience (חוֹסֶן אַקְלִים), chosen aklim, refers to our ability to prepare for and respond to dangerous events and disruptions, caused by climate change.

Have you heard about some of the Israelis leading local and global responses to climate change? Check out their inspiring stories (including that of Dr. Alon Tal, a founder of Adam Teva v’Din)!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

  • How are the concepts of immunization and resilience connected?
  • Why would resilience and immunization share the same root as a warehouse or storage? What’s the connection?


Kayamoot (קַיָּמוֹת)


The word kayam (קַיָּם) means existing, and kiyoom (קִיּוּם) means existence. The verb l’kayem (לְקַיֵּם) is to fulfill and l’hitkayem (לְהִתְקַיֵּם) means to exist or to take place. The word, kayamoot (קַיָּמוֹת) meaning sustainability also originates from the same root.

Environmental sustainability (קַיָּמוֹת סְבִיבָתִית), kayamoot svivatit, is the idea that humans must interact with our environment in a way that conserves natural resources and protects the world’s ecosystems. The goal is to support a healthy and safe existence for humans and all inhabitants of the world, now and in the future.

Photo Credit:
  • How are the concepts of immunization and resilience connected?
  • Why would resilience and immunization share the same root as a warehouse or storage? What’s the connection?


Future Inventions
Provide everyone with a list of futuristic sustainability-related inventions that don’t yet have a name and haven’t yet been invented. For example, a solar powered air conditioner, a house that is heated by compost, etc. Have each participant use any Hebrew combination of words to create a name for this new invention—they can look up the words they don’t know. Following a presentation of their ideas, enjoy the discussion!
Shoresh competition
Split into groups and provide a shoresh (שׁוֹרֶשׁ), root that is found in many common Hebrew words. Have teams write down as many words that share that shoresh. After, have the groups take turns sharing their words, one at a time. The team that comes up with the most words that the other groups did not list wins!

תחנות יסוד קשורות בתחום החינוך לישראל

Related Building Blocks of Israel Education