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© Copyright 2001, Jim Loy
First of all, let me say that the word "hieroglyphics" is relatively rare in Egyptology literature in English. The singular "hieroglyphic" as a noun is also relatively rare. Some Egyptologists claim that "hieroglyphics" is wrong, and "hieroglyphic" (perhaps relating it to hieratic, demotic, and coptic) is right. The dictionaries and encyclopedias mostly prefer "hieroglyphics" (perhaps relating it to economics, or maybe hysterics). Those who use neither noun, usually use "hieroglyphs," as in "Champollion deciphered hieroglyphs." This is not perfect, either, as it tends to imply specific hieroglyphs, and not hieroglyphics in general. "Hieroglyphic language" is inaccurate, as the language is Egyptian. "Hieroglyphic writing" may need further explanation to assure the reader that it includes inscriptions. "Hieroglyphic inscriptions" may need further explanation to make it include some papyri. All in all, it is simpler (and perfectly grammatical) to use "hieroglyphics." My apologies to those who are offended.
In my studies of the language, I have noticed a few things. For example, let's start with hmt (woman, wife) and hmt (female servant). This coincidence may seem discouraging to feminists, but the two words are completely unrelated, except that they sound the same (perhaps they sounded somewhat differently). But hm (servant) and hm (majesty) were related. We can guess that the king was actually a servant (of the gods, not of lesser humans). The high priests were also called servants of the god or gods. Another surprise is that mwt (mother) is mostly a picture of a vulture. But the various vultures seem to have been respected in Egypt, as it is often seen on the crowns of kings.
The word nfr means both "beautiful" and "good." Did the Egyptians mistake shallow beauty for truth; or were they perceptive enough to see good things (and people) as beautiful? I think that it was the latter.
The word for "go downstream" also means "go north." I suppose using this phrase in some other country (where rivers run south) could have been confusing. The word for "east" is mostly the same as the word for "left (hand)." Similarly, the word for "west" is the same as the word for "right (hand)." So Egyptians were facing south (in their imaginations) when they said "east" or "west." West is the direction in which the sun goes down, and that is where people go when they die. Most cemeteries (cities of the dead) were on the west side of the Nile.
There is more than one word for "reach." It means to stretch your arm to grasp something with your hand, and it also means to arrive somewhere (perhaps in a boat). These two related meanings are found in both Egyptian and English (and I assume in other languages).
These two birds. , might seem easy to confuse, except that the first one (a swallow or martin) is phonetic (pronounced wr) and almost always has the r sign below it (as you see here), and the second (a sparrow) is a determinative (at the end of a word, and tells about the meaning of the word). The first bird usually means "great." The second one usually means "weak" or "bad." I wonder what the sparrow did to deserve that.
The word "give praise" literally means to "adore in the morning." The word for "deceased" means "true of voice." Some recent books of fiction call the Mediterranean "the great green." This seems to have been the generic name for any sea. Apparently, it did not apply to the Mediterranean specifically. "Green" also meant "fresh," by the way. More than one word for "divide" or "cut" also means to "judge." To "live again after death" is to "repeat life." When a person died, and once he succeeded in gaining entrance to the netherworld, he become Osiris. I am not sure of the details of this. To "rise" (as the sun does) also means to "shine." So our cliche "rise and shine" would be redundant.
The Bangles sang "Walk Like an Egyptian" and demonstrated the stiff poses that we sometimes associate with ancient Egyptian paintings and hieroglyphics. The Egyptian art and writing is not quite that stiff. But the hieroglyphic signs which represent humans are nearly identical, over and over again; and that produces a strange stiffness. Of course a sign must be recognized every time, and so it is drawn the same every time.
One person, who was writing a story taking place in ancient Egypt, sent me email asking for the Egyptian translation of "sweet dreams." I responded like this:
Keeping in mind that all Egyptian pronunciation is uncertain, rswt (resut or maybe reswet) would be "dream." And bnr would be "sweet." But there is an interesting poetic coincidence: rshwt means joy. So rswt rshwt could mean "dream and joy," or "dream of joy." A character may comment that he/she is being clever by making that word play.
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