Rabbinical School Divrei Torah Noah and the Wampanoags
If you were paying close attention to the seemingly endless genealogy lists in last week’s parashah, נֹחַ, you may have noticed that among Noah’s descendants was a grandson named תִּירָס (Gen. 10:2). תִּירָס is also the Modern Hebrew word for the grain that Americans call “corn.” Surprisingly, the biblical figure and the word for “corn” are in fact connected. (The information that follows was gathered by Gad B. Sarfatti, an Israeli linguist.)
In one of the Aramaic translations of the Torah, תִּירָס is translated as תְּרָקִי. Though various theories have been offered as to what ethnic groups תִּירָס and תְּרָקִי refer to (e.g., the Thracians or the Etruscans), in Hebrew Enlightenment-era literature, תִּירָס/תְּרָקִי was understood to refer to Turkey.
The grain that we call “corn” was first called “Turkish wheat” in a number of European languages, including German, French, Italian and Yiddish (in which it was called טערקישע ווייץ). Turkey evidently represented, generically, a distant and exotic place of origin. Accordingly, in Hebrew corn was given the name חִטֵּי תִּירָס — which was later shortened to תִּירָס.
Sarfatti summarizes: “Corn is called תִּירָס in Hebrew based on the assumptions that it comes from Turkey and that in the Bible, Turkey was called תִּירָס. Both assumptions are almost certainly incorrect. But the name of the plant endures.”