Fri, 05 Jan 2018
Last month I wrote about the Turkish analog of “Joe Blow”. I got email from Gaal Yahas, who said
Sadly no. But M. Yahas did tell me in detail about the Hebrew version, and I did a little additional research.
The Hebrew version of “Joe Blow” / “John Doe” is unequivocally “Ploni Almoni” (”פלוני אלמוני“, I think). This usage goes back at least to the Book of Ruth, approximately 2500 years ago. Ruth's husband has died without leaving an heir, and custom demands that a close relative of her father-in-law should marry her, to keep the property in the family. Boaz takes on this duty, but first meets with another man, who is a closer relative than he:
This other relative declines to marry Ruth. He is not named, and is referred to in the Hebrew version as Ploni Almoni, translated here as “such a one”. This article in The Jewish Chronicle discusses the possible etymology of these words, glossing “ploni” as akin to “covered” or “hidden” and “almoni” as akin to “silenced” or “muted”.
Ploni Almoni also appears in the book of Samuel, probably even older than Ruth:
The mission is secret, so David does not reveal the meeting place to Ahimelek. Instead, he refers to it as Ploni Almoni. There is a similar usage at 2 Kings 6:8.
Apparently the use of “Ploni” in Hebrew to mean “some guy” continues through the Talmud and up to the present day. M. Yahas also alerted me to two small but storied streets in Tel Aviv. According to this article from Haaretz:
And so they remain, 95 years later.
(M. Yahas explains that “Simta” means “alley” and is feminine, so that Ploni and Almoni take the feminine ‘-it’ ending to agree with it.)
Wikipedia has not one but many articles on this topic and related ones:
My own tiny contribution in this area: my in-laws live in a rather distant and undeveloped neighborhood on the periphery of Seoul, and I once referred to it as 아무데도동 (/amudedo-dong/), approximately “nowhereville”. This is not standard in Korean, but I believe the meaning is clear.
[ Addendum 20230423: Every time I reread this article, I am startled by Haaretz's use of the word “christened” in this context. ]