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Trinopus
08-09-2014, 12:07 AM
If a Jew (perhaps a medieval Jew) wanted to mark a map, to indicate "Here is where the treasure is buried," which letter in the Hebrew alphabet is likely to be used? Is there a Jewish/Hebrew alphabetical cultural equivalent to the English/European "X?"

(And...what about if an illiterate man wants to make his mark?)

engineer_comp_geek
08-09-2014, 12:41 AM
Illiterate people have historically often still made an X. Sometimes they would make some kind of personal symbol, which didn't have to be any real letter at all, just something that meant something to the person making the mark. A buffalo hunter might draw a circle with horns to indicate a buffalo, for example. In modern times, some countries will take a thumb print instead of a signature for those who are illiterate. In both historical and modern contexts, an illiterate mark of this nature was sometimes only valid if there was someone literate who was able to also sign the document as a witness.

Treasure maps with an X marking the spot are mostly fictional. Real pirates rarely buried their treasure and as far as I am aware there has never been a real life pirate treasure map with an X (or anything else) marking the spot.

As for the Jewish cultural equivalent, sorry, no idea on that part.

TimeWinder
08-09-2014, 12:46 AM
I'm also not sure the "X" is really a letter in this sense, anyway. A small number of crossed lines (an X or a asterisk-like mark) is a pretty good way to draw attention to a specific spot on a map without covering up too much of it. It's better than a circle (which isn't very specific) or an arrow (which is easily confused for indicating a direction rather than a place). So while we say "X marks the spot," I think what we really mean is "a pair of crossed lines marks the spot," and the Jewish equivalent would be....more or less an "X."

Trinopus
08-09-2014, 12:51 AM
For some reason, I had always taken it as a letter, although of what significance, I've never guessed. Perhaps something left over from Chi-Rho.

I looked up the Hebrew alphabet, of course, but it doesn't have a letter that looks X-like, nor a letter that is a cognate of our "X."

(Really, a pretty useless letter anyway. Sometimes it's silent, or nearly so, as in Xavier, and the rest of the time, you could just say "cks" like "Acks" for "Axe.")

Malacandra
08-09-2014, 03:43 AM
For some reason, I had always taken it as a letter, although of what significance, I've never guessed. Perhaps something left over from Chi-Rho.

I looked up the Hebrew alphabet, of course, but it doesn't have a letter that looks X-like, nor a letter that is a cognate of our "X."

(Really, a pretty useless letter anyway. Sometimes it's silent, or nearly so, as in Xavier, and the rest of the time, you could just say "cks" like "Acks" for "Axe.")

And of course "cks" doesn't convey anything that "ks" can't do perfectly well by itself. :p

chappachula
08-09-2014, 06:18 AM
(The OP asks about medieval Jews. But there aren't too many of them around to ask. And if you want to get an answer from modern ultra-Orthodox Jews, well.....don't post your question on the Sabbath ) :)

I can only answer with regards to modern spoken Hebrew:
Among today's Hebrew speakers, it is assumed that anybody with a grade-school education knows the English alphabet, even if they can't speak English.
(and in high school, algebra is taught using X and Y in the standard formulas.)
So the letter X is well known, and in common speaking, it is used frequently (pronounced as "eeks" :) ).

You might say : " know you don't have GPS, so I printed out the map for you ---the red "eeks" is my house."

Or you could say: " Be careful... the salesman at that used car lot might tell you the price is "X" , but with taxes your total cost will end up being a lot more than "eeks".

Chronos
08-09-2014, 09:00 AM
Two crossed lines is just the right tool for the job for marking a specific location, since they intersect at a point. Three lines means you need to be more precise in your marking to make sure all three meet at the same spot, and doesn't give you any extra benefit. All that's left is to decide the orientation of your two lines, whether they're a + or an x.

jtur88
08-09-2014, 10:23 AM
The obvious advantage of the X is that it is a large enough symbol to readily find on the map, but has a obvious focal point that can represent a place with a great deal more exactitude than the space occupied by the letter. A Plus can also be used, as is the fact today on computer-generated map mousing, but Alphabet predated Arithmetic symbols, so the X has the advantage of inertia.

Logic (rather than knowledge) suggests that users of other alphabets have either borrowed the X, or arbitrarily chosen a letter of their own that manifests the same advantage.

dougie_monty
08-09-2014, 10:31 AM
I read somewhere that Jews don't use "X," because of its association with the cross; they use a little circle instead. A Jewish family I know has a front door with circles of colored glass, instead of panels of wood divided by crosslike pieces.

Nava
08-09-2014, 10:45 AM
In Spanish and before some movie translated the English sentence literally, we called that mark a cross. And just as an example of what engineer_comp_geek said, one of my rental flats was owned by an illiterate lady and managed by her son: the rental contract had her thumbprint and an X or cross in each "sign here" spot, in 2013. Normally a rental contract will start by identifying two parties, owner-or-manager and renter; this one identified owner, son who had read and explained the contract to the owner, and renter.




dougie_monty, I know many Christian families with doors like that. If Jews were going to stop using anything that looks remotely like a Cross... man, that would make being a left-handed vegan coeliac sound easy.

dougie_monty
08-09-2014, 10:55 AM
What's a "coeliac"?

Nava
08-09-2014, 10:56 AM
Someone with coeliac disease. Gluten intolerance.

Trinopus
08-09-2014, 02:53 PM
I read somewhere that Jews don't use "X," because of its association with the cross; they use a little circle instead. A Jewish family I know has a front door with circles of colored glass, instead of panels of wood divided by crosslike pieces.

This is the sort of thing I was looking for; I was asking about cultural and social conventions, to which I would very, very likely be blind or ignorant, not having encountered them in my life.

(Alas, although some of my better friends are Jews....I don't know any practicing Jews, only highly secularized ones. My Jewish friends are the kind who eat ham sandwiches and shrimp cocktails.)

That said...I don't think Jews would acknowledge Christianity in quite such a way. The Cross, to them, has no more power than the Islamic Crescent does for a Christian. It'd be like saying Christians no longer represent the Moon in weather reports or calendars because of its association with Islam. Nuh?

But this is in the direction of what I was asking. I wondered if, y'know, "Tav" was the traditional "You Are Here" icon...or something along those lines.

Posting on the Sabbath...well...I'm willing to wait.

John Mace
08-09-2014, 03:13 PM
I read somewhere that Jews don't use "X," because of its association with the cross; they use a little circle instead. A Jewish family I know has a front door with circles of colored glass, instead of panels of wood divided by crosslike pieces.

I'd like to see a cite for that. :dubious:

Or by "Jews" do you mean "some Jewish guy somewhere"?

susan
08-10-2014, 10:33 PM
I also always heard that Jews would use a circle rather than an X. I was taught that this was the etymology of the slur "kike" (kikel = circle). It may be a folk etymology, but the Online Etymological Dictionary still reports, in part,
Philip Cowen, first editor of "The American Hebrew," suggests a source in Yiddish kikel "circle." According to him, Jewish immigrants, ignorant of writing with the Latin alphabet, signed their entry forms with a circle, eschewing the "X" as a sign of Christianity. On this theory, Ellis Island immigration inspectors began calling such people kikels, and the term shortened as it passed into general use.

Alessan
08-11-2014, 01:13 AM
I don't know about other Jews, but Israelis just use X. Also, check marks are called "V"s. We're mostly bilingual, so it isn't really a problem, although for some reason X is pronounced "eex".

Johanna
08-11-2014, 01:51 AM
I wondered if, y'know, "Tav" was the traditional "You Are Here" icon...or something along those lines.In the Ancient Hebrew alphabet (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleo-Hebrew_alphabet)—not the current square one, which is of Aramaic origin, but the original one—that letter was written like an X, and the meaning of its name has been explained as "a mark (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taw#Origins_of_taw)." When I saw the thread title, I thought that's what was meant.

MrDibble
08-11-2014, 05:13 AM
I also always heard that Jews would use a circle rather than an X. I was taught that this was the etymology of the slur "kike" (kikel = circle). It may be a folk etymology, but the Online Etymological Dictionary still reports, in part,

The problems I have with that explanation are:
a) Why would the (presumably largely goyim) Ellis Island officials use a Yiddish word as a slur?
b) Where's the evidence that a lot of Jews at the time ever associated the X with Christianity? It's not like it looks anything like a crucifix, actually...
c) Most Jewish immigrants would not have been illiterate, would they? European Jews placed a very high premium on literacy (or at least, that's what the scientific racists like Wade and Harpending are always telling us - but there's no denying Yiddishkeit has always valued scholarship)
d) What about other illiterate immigrants of the time? Buddhist Chinese were happy to sign with X'es, I take it?

The whole explanation has a made-up feel about it.

robert_columbia
08-11-2014, 09:10 AM
...Among today's Hebrew speakers, it is assumed that anybody with a grade-school education knows the English alphabet, even if they can't speak English.
(and in high school, algebra is taught using X and Y in the standard formulas.)
So the letter X is well known, and in common speaking, it is used frequently (pronounced as "eeks" :) )....

Good point, and istm that it is pretty common for English speakers to know the Greek alphabet, even if they don't speak any Greek. It's not universal by any means, but generally people can recognize the letters by sight and give the name and a rough pronunciation. English speakers use Greek letters heavily in math, and also use them as part of the traditional fraternity naming system.

And, we all know that pi


is a li.

robert_columbia
08-11-2014, 09:17 AM
The problems I have with that explanation are:
a) Why would the (presumably largely goyim) Ellis Island officials use a Yiddish word as a slur?...


Perhaps they heard immigrants using the term to describe the circles they were making.

E.g.

Immigration official <pointing to mark>: "What is that?"
Immigrant: "uhh, kikel?"


...b) Where's the evidence that a lot of Jews at the time ever associated the X with Christianity? It's not like it looks anything like a crucifix, actually...
...

Actually, X, as the Greek letter Chi, is heavily associated with Christianity as an image of the cross and also the first letter in the Greek word for Christ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chi_Rho). It's also where we get the X in "Xmas".

And that might be why Windows XP keeps coming back from the dead...

dougie_monty
08-11-2014, 09:44 AM
[...]

Actually, X, as the Greek letter Chi, is heavily associated with Christianity as an image of the cross and also the first letter in the Greek word for Christ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chi_Rho). where we get the X in "Xmas".

[...]

Oh, quit talking like Stan Freberg! :D

TimeWinder
08-11-2014, 11:10 AM
It's not universal by any means, but generally people can recognize the letters by sight and give the name and a rough pronunciation.

I would be willing to bet large sums of money that at least 90% of American English speakers could not name or roughly pronounce half or more of the Greek alphabet by sight. 98% if you eliminate folks with a college-level math/science/engineering background.

dougie_monty
08-11-2014, 11:44 AM
I could make an attempt to pronounce the names with the sounds of modern Greek, but the "g" sound in gamma is kinda hard...

MrDibble
08-12-2014, 01:49 AM
Actually, X, as the Greek letter Chi, is heavily associated with Christianity as an image of the cross and also the first letter in the Greek word for Christ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chi_Rho). It's also where we get the X in "Xmas".
True - I'm still asking where is the evidence that this was a problem for Jews.

Mangetout
08-12-2014, 02:52 AM
Two crossed lines is just the right tool for the job for marking a specific location, since they intersect at a point. Three lines means you need to be more precise in your marking to make sure all three meet at the same spot, and doesn't give you any extra benefit. All that's left is to decide the orientation of your two lines, whether they're a + or an x.

True. If you're triangulating from two bearings, then X naturally marks the spot.

With three bearings, you get a cocked hat (http://www.working-the-sails.com/fixing_a_position.html), rather than crossed lines.