Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
עוף עיף יעף
The root cluster עוף ('wp), עיף ('yp), and יעף (y'p) appears to reflect a general sense of elevation, and from that come words that have to do with flight, or with being eminent, or with overshadowing and hence covering or protecting. This cluster is arguably one of those Scriptural phenomena that reflect the vast complexity and simultaneous simplicity, intelligence and efficiency of the Hebrew language. In translations this verbal unity must sadly be fractured, and a large majority of Bible enthusiasts will never know what treasures lie within.
According to scholars, there are two separate roots עוף ('wp), one having to do with flight, the other with darkness. But in the Hebrew mind these two ideas aren't separate at all. A more common word for wings or winged creature is כנף (kanap). The associated verb is כנף (kanep), and means to hide or enclose.
Then, one of the two roots עוף ('wp) also occurs in the form עיף ('yp), and there is one more root עיף ('yp), which appears to be a by-form of one of two roots יעף (y'p), while the other seems to tie into עוף ('up).
The verb עוף ('up I) means to fly or fly away (Genesis 1:20, Proverbs 23:5, Isaiah 31:5). It's a very common root in the Semitic language area, and its derivatives are:
- The masculine noun עוף ('op), denoting creatures that fly, such as birds (Genesis 40:17) and insects (Leviticus 11:20).
- The masculine noun עפעף ('ap'ap), meaning eyelid (Job 16:16, Psalm 132:3, Jeremiah 9:17).
Apparently, in the Hebrew mind, an eyelid resembles a wing, and the function of a wing isn't only to fly with, it's more so to cover with. Hence Isaiah speaks of God protecting Jerusalem like a hen its chicks (Isaiah 31:5) and the Psalmist of seeking refuge under God's wings (Psalm 91:4). It may very well be that the ancients saw God as having wings (which, in time, should result in us having wings as well, being made in God's image; meaning we're still larvae), but it could also be that the Psalmist saw mankind as (a) the apple of God's eye (Deuteronomy 32:10, Psalm 17:8, Zechariah 2:8) and (b) at times safely behind his eye lids.
עיף I עוף II
The root עוף ('up II) or עיף ('ip) means to be dark. It occurs only once, in Job 11:17, although it's equally probable that in this verse not the verb but a derived noun is used. This root's derivatives are:
- The feminine noun עיפה ('epa), meaning darkness (Job 10:22 only).
- The masculine nouns מועף (mu'ap) and מועף (ma'up), meaning gloom (Isaiah 8:22 and 9:1 only).
- The feminine noun תעפה (teupa), also meaning gloom (Job 11:17 only).
The verb עיף ('ip) is a by-form of the verb יעף (ya'ep; see below), and means to faint or be faint (Judges 4:21, 1 Samuel 14:28, Jeremiah 4:31). Its sole derivative is the adjective עיף ('ayep), meaning faint, weary or exhausted (Genesis 25:29, Job 22:7, Jeremiah 31:25).
It's an admitted long-shot, but perhaps our verb can be linked to עוף ('up) through the idea of light-headedness. Or else, since being well goes hand in hand with being heavy, lacking nutrition causes lightness.
The verb יעף (ya'ep I) is a by-form of עיף ('ip) and also means to be weary or faint (Isaiah 40:28, Jeremiah 51:58, Daniel 9:21). Its two derivatives are:
- The adjective יעף (ya'ep), meaning weary or faint (2 Samuel 16:2, Isaiah 40:29).
- The masculine noun יעף (ye'ap), meaning weariness or faintness (Daniel 9:21).
The verb יעף (ya'ep II) isn't used in the Bible, but it's comparable to an Arabic verb that means to ascend. This root's sole extant derivative is the feminine noun תועפה (to'apa), meaning eminence (Numbers 23:22, Psalm 95:4).