Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The root-verb ילל (yalal) means to howl or wail (and may be onomatopoeic, says BDB Theological Dictionary). This verb is not used so much in the sense of singing a dirge (says HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament), but rather in that of "violent lamentation".
The prophet Joel entices all members of society to bewail to impending calamities associated with the "day of YHWH" (Joel 1:5-13). Through Amos the Lord proclaims that even the songs sang in palaces will turn into wailing on that day, but through Hosea He laments that His people don't wail from their heart, but rather from their wallets (Hosea 7:14).
The prophet Isaiah uses this verb in perhaps its most basic meaning: not that of mourning but that of making a lot of noise, for whatever reason. In Isaiah 52:5, the Lord observes that the rulers of the exiled people howl, and blaspheme His Name continuously.
The derivatives of this verb are:
- The masculine noun ילל (yelel), meaning a howling. This noun occurs only once, in Deuteronomy 32:10, which speaks of the howling waste of the desert (perhaps the inspiration of Herman Melville's famous "howling infinite of fiction"?).
- The feminine equivalent יללה (yelala), also meaning a howling or a wailing (Isaiah 15:8, Zephaniah 1:10).
- Perhaps also the masculine noun תולל (tolal), which occurs only once, in plural, in Psalm 137:3. BDB Theological Dictionary expresses doubt that this noun was derived from the root ילל (yalal) but offers no alternative. The KJV and ASV translate this word with "they that wasted us". Darby reads "they that made us wail". Young speaks of "our spoilers," and NAS, NIV and JSP read "our tormentors".