BAR 32:04, Jul/Aug 2006
Circumcised Phallus an Egyptian Hieroglyph
The Egyptian word for phallus is ḥnn, perhaps pronounced khenen (the kh is a guttural as in Hanukkah or Loch Lomond). In Egyptian hieroglyphs, khenen is spelled with three pictographs: a picture of twisted flax (the first sound in the word for wick [ḥat], which is made of twisted flax, is kh), followed by two water signs (the ancient word for water—nwy—begins with the n sound). These three signs are then followed by a sign called a determinative. Determinatives have no phonetic value; they indicate the general category to which a noun or verb belongs. For example, the determinative may indicate the word is a city or a deity. Determinatives also serve to solve another problem: Egyptian words spelled with hieroglyphs regularly omit vowels (just like Hebrew), so they can be pronounced in more than one way and have different meanings depending on how they are pronounced. The determinative indicates how the vowel-less word is to be pronounced and therefore what it means. The determinative sign indicating that ḥnn is to be pronounced khenen and therefore means “phallus” is a phallus. This determinative is pictured circumcised. Ḥnn could mean hoe or plow if a picture of one of those items was used as a determinative instead of a phallus.