By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, June 24, 2010

Dikduk, a scary word for generations of Jewish day School pupils, means grammar in modern Hebrew. It carries connotations of narrow distinctions between verb formations and subtle differences in tense structures. The origins of the word and even its sound fully express these associations. Dikduk comes from the word dak, meaning fine or thin.The word dikdek means to grind or crush - that is to make something fine or thin. From the literal act of grinding and crushing, it also comes to bear the psychological sense of broken, humiliated and afflicted.

In the Talmud dikduk means fine points of learning. Among the vast breadth of subjects in which Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was knowledgeable, the Talmud enumerates "dikdukei Torah and dikdukei sofrim", fine inference from the Torah and rabbinic writings. By the Middle Ages, dikduk had come to refer, in particular, to Hebrew grammar. This history explains the onomatopeaic character of dikduk -the very sound of it suggests a meticulous attention to small details.

Last updated: 10:48am, June 24 2010