Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
צפר צפע צפף
The roots צפר (spr), צפע (sp'), and צפף (spp), apparently, had a distinct phonetic character, probably somewhere between hissing and chirping, or moaning and rustling. But besides being onomatopoeic, there also seems to be a distinct undertone to these roots that has to do with a circular motion; a coiling or returning or simply going about in circles. Perhaps these roots weren't known by the kind of sound that they represented, but rather by its repetitive or cyclic character — whether it was a high pitch chirp or a low pitch moan, the fact that they were continuously repeated made them eligible to be conveyed by these roots.
Assumed root צפע (sp' I) yields two related nouns:
- The masculine noun צפע (sepa'), denoting some kind of snake (from hissing? proposes BDB Theological Dictionary). This noun is used only once, in Isaiah 14:29.
- The masculine noun צפעוני (sip'oni), probably denotes the same creature as the previous noun. This word occurs a few times in the Bible (Proverbs 23:32, Isaiah 11:8, Jeremiah 8:17).
Assumed root צפע (sp' II) yields the masculine noun צפיע (sapia'), denoting cattle dung. It occurs only in Ezra 4:15.
Assumed root צפע (sp' III) yields only one derivative, the feminine noun צפיעה (sepi'a). This noun is used only once, in Isaiah 22:24, and we have no idea what it means, but most translations and interpretations go with offshoot.
The root-verb צפף (sapap) denotes some kind of (doleful) sound. This verb occurs only four times, all in Isaiah. Twice figurative birds produce this sound (Isaiah 10:14, 38:14), and twice spirits or spiritists (Isaiah 8:19, 29:4).
This verb's sole derivative is the feminine noun צפצפה (sapsapa), which denotes the Bible's version of a weeping willow. It occurs only once, in Ezekiel 17:5.
The verb צפר (sapar I) occurs only once in the Bible (that is, if it's truly a separate verb), namely in Judges 7:3, where God tells Gideon that fearful men may sapar from Mount Gilead. BDB Theological Dictionary declares this verb's meaning "wholly uncertain" although most translations have something like "depart from". Still, this assumed root may not be all that separate, and may have to do with the behavior of birds (because, see next). In fact, it may be the Bible's equivalent of to chicken out; to flutter off scared.
The verb צפר (sapar II) occurs in Arabic as to peep or twitter, and in Assyrian as to cry or howl. In the Bible this root doesn't occur as verb but its sole derivative is the important feminine noun צפור (sippor), meaning bird. This noun is also sometimes spelled צפר (sippor; Leviticus 14:4, Psalm 8:8) and once or twice it's treated as a masculine noun (Psalm 102:7 and possibly 104:17). In the Bible, birds are imaginary of: a proneness to flee to safety (Psalm 11:1), straying (Proverbs 27:8), wavering (Proverbs 26:2), and loneliness (Psalm 102:7). But on the other hand, birds appear to have made pets as early as the time of Job (Job 41:5), they were appreciated for their singing (Song of Solomon 2:12) and birds seem to have been suspected of having found access to the courts of the Lord (Psalm 84:3).
Root צפר (sapar III) doesn't occur as verb in the Bible, and only once derivative remains: the feminine noun צפירה (sepira), denoting a kind of round headdress, like a crown or diadem, in Isaiah 28:5, and something like doom or fate in Ezekiel 7:7 and v10.
Root צפר (sapar IV) also doesn't occur as verb in the Bible, and yields only one extant derivation: the masculine noun צפרן (sipporen), meaning finger nail (Deuteronomy 21:12) or stylus point (Jeremiah 17:1).
Root צפר (sapar V) is also not used as verb, but according to BDB Theological Dictionary it may have to do with a Semitic root that means to leap. Only one or perhaps two derivatives remain:
- The masculine noun צפיר (sapir), meaning he-goat. This noun occurs only in the later texts of the Bible (Daniel 8:5, 2 Chronicles 29:21, Ezra 8:35). The regular word for he-goat is שׂעיר (se'ir; see the name Seir).
- The feminine noun צפרדע (separdea'), meaning frogs (Exodus 8:2, Psalm 78:45). BDB Theological Dictionary lists this unusually long word under root צפר (sapar V), which it reluctantly declares comparable to an Arabic verb meaning to leap. HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament lists this word under its own entree number and gives no hint at a possible etymology.