False Friends

3 November 2020

pardés in Hebrew:

  1. orchard, grove, fruit garden

paradesi in Tamil:

  1. Foreigner, stranger … 2. Sojourner, pilgrim, traveller;

What the latter definition leaves out is that paradesi is almost always used as a derogatory word. Are the two words cognates? The Hebrew word’s roots are Proto-Iranian as the etymology describes, while the Tamil word is probably derived from Sanskrit. Proto-Iranian and Sanskrit are both theorized to have developed from Proto-Indo-European. They are probably false friends — true cognates with different meanings due to semantic change.

My interest in these two words began when I learned about the Paradesi Jews of India — is it an accident that a word with negative connotations ties back to people who faced persecution and antisemitism? Maybe, but the sad truth today is that few people in Chennai are aware of its Jewish past. History is the story of people - many stories are tragic but deserve to be remembered.