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Etymolonline states that the word "suffix" is of Latin Origin. However, the Hebrew word for "end" is sof (סוף) pronounced like in "sofa".

Since a suffix comes at the end of the word, I often thought that it may be the actual origin.

Or is it just a coincidence?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

It is pure coincidence, I’m afraid.

‘Suffix’ is a Latin word, and it can be split up into sub- ‘under, after’ and fixus, the passive perfect participle of figō ‘fix, fasten, stick to, bore through’. Literally, it just means ‘[something] stuck to the bottom/end (of …)’. Similarly, ‘prefix’ means ‘[something] stuck to the beginning (of …)’, ‘infix’ means ‘[something] stuck inside (of …)’, ‘adfix’ means ‘[something] stuck to (…)’, and ‘circumfix’ means ‘[something] stuck around (…)’.

Even a connection between Latin sub- and Hebrew sof is not likely, because Latin sub- is quite simply the non-transparent result of an earlier compound preposition exupo- ‘out from under’ (made up of ex- ‘from’ and upo- ‘under’) in very early pre-Italic. The preposition upo was lost as a standalone preposition and prefix very early on in Italic languages, but exupo survived and took its place. By aphaeresis, regular syncope, and semi-regular prefix lenition, *exupo- became *’ksupo- > *’supo- (aphaeresis), then *sup- (syncope), and finally *sub- (prefix lenition).

So in the case of ‘suffix’ specifically, the f comes from the verb meaning ‘fasten’ and is not connected to the prefix sub-; while in the case of sub- itself, the s comes from a different word than the ub.

Unless Hebrew sof ‘end’ happens to be a borrowing from an Italic language (which I think would be quite odd, considering that sub- only occasionally means ‘after’, its basic meaning being ‘under’—I do not know the etymology of sof, however), there really is no way that the two words can be related.

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I gotta say, given affix, prefix, and infix, it would be a huge coincidence if they all came from Latin but suffix were Hebrew.

It might be that there's a PIE root for "end" or "under" that sounded like "su-".

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Latin and English (indogermanic/indoeuropean) are members of a completely different family of languages than Hebrew (semitic). Suffix has nothing to do with Hebrew, Janus explained it correctly. Imperium also has nothing to do with Hebrew. It is Latin and derives from impero, -as, -are which means to order or to command and which itself consists of im("in") + parare (to prepare or to order). "Syfer" in Afrikaans (also indogerm./indoeurop.) or "Ziffer" in German are loanwords (via Italian) from Arabic "sifr" which itself seems to be a loanword or adaption from Middle Greek or Old Indic, but I'd have to look that up.

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I would not discount the possibility suggested by the OP, seeing that Ancient/Classical/Biblical Hebrew is much older than Latin. In view of many more of these 'coincidences' all over English, I would advance that Latin-based languages has borrowed greatly from Hebrew especially when it comes to prefixes and suffixes.

Like the ad (He: towards) in ad hoc and ad infinitum. This is also present in English words like advent.

The em/im prefix of empire (La: imperium [with[along]-perimeter]) where the Hebrew has the self standing word im (He: with) also seen in the beautiful title of the Lord Jesus, Em-[m]anu-el (with-us-God). This is also seen in words like empathy.

The short sounding o (He: or) is or in English.

Adereth (He:glory/cloak) to English adore along with Adi-ir (He:majestic).

And I can think of one more in Afrikaans: soferah (He: counting) -> syfer (numbers used for counting).

And of course the a ending in feminine names like America, Brittanica, Russia might even have a relation to the general feminine ending of -a in Hebrew.

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