I wish to identify the oldest known root from which we derive the words 'real' and 'reality', et cetera.

I got as far as determining the origin of the English words real and reality is Latin res, meaning thing, matter.

I found one online reference indicating res may have been derived from the (20th) Hebrew letter resh. I found that reference here. But I have not found much else linking these two words.

I would like to know if anyone with more knowledge on such things has any insight on this. The Hebrew letter resh, interestingly, was derived from an image of a man's head (which one could arguably say is rather linked to our perception and determination of what is real). Also, I understand resh can refer to a container, and boundaries. Latin res refers to a thing. Philosophically, it could be said things are the product of man identifying boundaries within what is otherwise a unified world, and through a process of reductionism classifying the product of these boundaries as separate things.

What I would like to determine is simply whether there is any plausibility to the idea of a link between Hebrew resh and Latin res.

Thank you.

  • 3
    Interesting question, but no longer about the English language after your good research!!
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 9:53
  • 2
    The question of a link between a Hebrew word and a Latin word is not a question about English. The English word is directly derived from Latin, as you found.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 9:53
  • 1
    RES: Etymology : From Proto-Italic *reis, from Proto-Indo-European *reh₁ís (“wealth, goods”). Cognate to Old Persian [script needed] (rāy-, “paradise, wealth”), Avestan 𐬭𐬁𐬫 (rāy-, “paradise, wealth”) and Sanskrit रयि (rayí, “property, goods”).en.wiktionary.org/wiki/res#Latin
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 10:01
  • 5
    I think your reference is simply saying that the Latin word for the Hebrew letter Resh is "res", since that's the best way to transcribe the sounds in latin. It's not saying that this word is the same as the word "res" meaning "thing" -- they're just homographs.
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 10:19
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about the English language but the links between Hebrew and Latin.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 12:32

1 Answer 1


The best treatment I know of is by Raymond Williams as part of his entry on “Realism” in Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (page 259), which I have excerpted below.

It is from [old French] real, [to the late Latin] realis, from [the ultimate traceable (Latin) word] res — thing. Its earliest English uses, from C15, were in matters of law and property, to denote something actually existing. There was a connected and persisting later use for immovable property, as still in real estate. The sense of something actually existing was transferred to general use, from lC16, in an implicit or explicit contrast with something imaginary: ‘Is’t reall that I see?’ (All’s Well That Ends Well, V, iii); ‘not Imaginary, but Reall’ (Hobbes, Leviathan, III, xxxiv). But at the same time there was an important sense of real as contrasted not with imaginary but with apparent: not only in theological arguments about the ‘reall presence’ of Christ in the materials of communion, but also in wider arguments about the true or fundamental quality of some thing or situation — the real thing, the reality of something. This use is still very common, if often not noticed as such, in phrases like ‘refusing to face the real facts of his situation’ or ‘refusing to face reality’. Since the use to indicate something tangible, palpable or factual was also strongly continued, it can be seen that there is almost endless play in the word.

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