Guest post by Prof. Shlomo Karni
Shlomo Karni was Professor of Electrical Engineering and Religious Studies at University of New Mexico until his retirement in 1999. His books include Dictionary of Basic Biblical Hebrew:Hebrew-English (Jerusalem: Carta, 2002).
Our starting point is Adam’s assertion (Gen. 2:23) “… לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּה כִּי מֵאִיש לֻקָחָה-זֹאת” which is problematic from the etymological point of view. We discuss briefly this point for the words אִיש, אִשָּה , and their relatives.
Linguistic authorities , ,  agree that there is no proven root relation between אִיש and אִשָּה. Here are the main points:
The etymology of אִיש is uncertain, although several ancient languages have similar words: In Arabic we have ‘ins’ and ‘insan’, in Phoenician — ‘n‘sh’. Those are clearly related to the word אֱנוֹש; as a masculine, singular, indefinite noun it is a synonym to אִיש, unrelated to it, but related to its plural form אֲנָשִים. The plural אִישִים is rare (3 times in the Bible); in Modern Hebrew it means ‘personalities’, ‘VIPs’.
The root of אִשָּה has wider support: In Aramaic, ‘אִנְתְּתָא’ or ‘אִתְּתָא’; in Arabic, ‘untha’. The ‘strong dagesh’ in the ש indicates the letter נ which disappeared from אִנְשָה. This phenomenon is also found in the pronouns אַתָּה and אַתְּ from (אַנְתְ(ה, and in the entire group of verbs whose first root letter is נ, the so-called חַסְרֵי פ”נ , or, briefly, פ”נ, where the נ disappears in their various conjugations and is replaced by a ‘strong dagesh’ in the ע letter: תִּקֹּם from תִּנְקֹם, תִּטֹּר from תִּנְטֹר , יִשָּׂא from יִנְשָׂא, — but יִנְהַג , because ה (along with א, ח, ר,ע) does not accept a ‘dagesh’.
So, instead of אִנְשָה we have אִשָּה . It is important to note that the ‘disappearing’ letter , נ in our case, must be a consonant. It cannot be a vowel like י in אִיש — hence, אִשָּה is not derived from אִיש.a Other examples of ‘disappearing’ consonants are יִקַּח from יִלְקַח , הִטַּהֵר from הִתְטַהֵר .
Finally, the well-known anomaly: the plural of אִשָּה, symbol of femininity, takes on the masculine suffix נָשִים, while אָב – a masculine symbol – becomes אָבוֹת.
Footnotes:. “המִּלון החדש”. ירושלים: קרית-ספר , 1969 אברהם אבן-שושן
. אברהם אבן-שושן, “קונקורדנציה חדשה”. ירושלים:קרית-ספר 1989
Also Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989
. Francis Brown, “The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English
Lexicon.” Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.
(Contains numerous citations of sources).
. In the prevalent ‘full spelling’, כְּתִיב מָלֵא, found in books, newspapers, etc., the vowel-letters ו, י are used profusely because vowel points are very rarely used. Rules about the ‘dagesh’ are suspended. So, it is בניי = ‘my sons’, =מילה’word’, or ‘circumcision’, מצווה = ‘commandment’. In this regimen, the feminine form of איש is… אישה , obtained with the normal suffix ה. Problem “solved” (?!).