Ask Language Log: "G'Tach"

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From TIC Redux:

In the 1971 British dark comedy horror film "The Abominable Dr. Phibes", the title character (played by a scenery-chewing Vincent Price) elaborately kills his victims through torturous deaths inspired by the ten (or so?) Plagues of Egypt… More than once in the film, those biblical plagues are referred to (per closed-captioning) as "the G'Tach"… That term intrigues me, but I've never been able to find any uses of, or references to, it except in connection with this film… Is it a real word?…

I will not pretend that I have an authoritative answer to this perplexing question, but will simply tell TIC Redux and the assembled readership of Language Log what little I have been able to find out about the mysterious "G'Tach".

First of all, there is an article about G'Tach in RationalWiki, which looks like Wikipedia, but is full of skepticism, satire, and irony, for which see this Wikipedia article.  The RationalWiki article on G'Tach begins by stating:

G'Tach is the Hebrew word that collectively refers to the ten plagues visited upon Egypt by God to persuade the Pharaoh to release Moses and his people from bondage.

It then lists the Hebrew names of the ten plagues and briefly describes each of them, after which it launches into a critical examination of the historical evidence for the enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt, their escape in a mass exodus, and the lack of records documenting their undergoing the alleged series of ten catastrophes.  The article dismisses the relevance of the Egyptian poem on the Ipuwer papyrus, after which it discusses attempts to provide scientific evidence for the ten plagues.  It is surprisingly balanced in regard to the latter endeavor, concluding, "it may be that real events influenced the people who made up the plague narratives, or that the Biblical story interleaves mythical versions of other natural disasters."  Overall, the account smacks of irreverence and disbelief.

As a Hebrew word, "G'Tach" didn't ring any bells with me, so I looked it up on Google Translate, which yielded "You got it".  That made me suspect that somebody was playing a trick.  Additional translations of גַת were listed as "cistern; wine press; vat; sinus", which were not very promising either.

Michael Carasik replied to my query:

G’Tach doesn’t ring a bell for me at all. If it’s to do with the plagues, perhaps a typo (or misremembering) for the first word of the acronym DeTzaCh, ADaSh, BaChAB?

(VHM:  see here)

David Stern commented on the RationalWiki article thus:

There are no sources on the site, and it appears to be a site devoted to debunking the Bible's historicity.  But it doesn't give any sources for the term G'Tach.  In Hebrew, it would be — — גת"ך .  I assume that it is some type of abbreviation (i.e., Gta"ch).  You might want to write Jeff Tigay and ask him. 

Jeff Tigay replied thus:

There is a well-known mnemonic for the plagues. It consists of ten (not three) letters, the first letter of each successive plague. It enables people to remember all ten and in the proper order. The letters are  דצךעדשבאחב (they are normally broken into 3 groups for ease in remembering: דצ״ך עד״ש באח״ב (the " signs indicate that these are abbreviations, not words).

The 10 words are:

Dam, Tzefardea, Kinnim, Arov, Dever, Shechin, Barad, Arbeh, Hoshech, Bechorot.

In your interlocutor's question, it seems that G'Tach is a distorted form of the first group of letters דצ״ך.

PLAGUE (Redirected from TEN PLAGUES.) By: Executive Committee of the Editorial Board., J. F. McLaughlin, Judah David Eisenstein.  Jewish Encyclopedia:

The order of the plagues in the Psalms differs from that in Exodus. R. Judah indicated the latter order by the mnemonic combination , consisting of the initial letters of the ten plagues as follows: = (1) water turning to blood, (2) frogs, (3) lice, (4) swarms of beasts, (5) murrain, (6) blains, (7) hail, (8) locusts, (9) darkness, (10) slaying of the first-born. The ten plagues are furthermore divided thus: three performed through Moses, three through Aaron, three directly by God, and one, the sixth, through Moses and Aaron together (Ex. vii. 17-x. 21; "Shibbole ha-Leḳeṭ," ed. Buber, p. 97b).

Having endured the mysteries of the Covid-19 pandemic for the past three years, we should be well prepared for the puzzles of G'Tach for a while as well.


Selected readings


  1. martin schwartz said,

    January 9, 2023 @ 8:57 pm

    I have nothing to add to Prof. Tigay's learned exposition, except that the Plagues are known in Hebrew as the Makkōth,
    Israeli pron. Makót, Yiddish mákes. Around Yiddish-speaking crowds at the Passover meal I would pun on arbe(h) 'locusts' via the Yiddish árbes 'chickpea(s') (a word discussed on LL with regard to Anc. Gr erébinthos and Span. garbanzo) . Also Yiddish
    di fir kashes (the 4 Questions (heb. 'difficult things' = 'questions' ritually asked at the Passover meal)
    I would explain as the 4 kashes (kashe < Salv. 'porridge cereal'):
    buckwheat, rye, millet, and wheat.

  2. Cervantes said,

    January 10, 2023 @ 8:07 am

    In Klingon, tach means boar and ga means game. So this could be a contraction for "game boar." (It sounded like Klingon to me so I looked it up.)

  3. bks said,

    January 10, 2023 @ 8:54 am

    Script for the movie available here:


    – Part of the G'tach.
    – The what, sir?
    – The G'tach.
    The ten curses visited upon the Pharaohs before Exodus.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    January 10, 2023 @ 9:51 am

    From Michael Carasik:

    Actually in the Psalms there are only 7 plagues. See "How Many Plagues Were There?", from my Many Voices book (pp. 303 ff.).

  5. Victor Mair said,

    January 10, 2023 @ 4:29 pm

    From Jeff Tigay:

    I see that Michael Carasik had it right in the first place.

    A partial explanation of the confusion — that is, דצך was distorted to גתך — *may* come from the fact that when using the QWERTY keyboard to type Hebrew, the "d" key is used to produce the Hebrew letter gimmel (ג , = g), whence the first letter accidentally became gimmel (ג) instead of dalet (ד). Then somehow the next letter accidentally became tav (ת) instead of tzade (צ) (perhaps because the English transliteration of tzade starts with a t? ).

  6. Victor Mair said,

    January 10, 2023 @ 4:30 pm

    From Nili Gold:

    Dear Jeff , thanks for giving credit to Michael for pointing out the possible origin. It is clear to those who read the Passover Hagada every year but seems mysterious to those who don't… The confusion between tav (ת) and tzade (צ) may stem from their placement on the keyboard just as you wisely noted regarding the Dalet (ד) and gimel (ג) – – this may be a modern version of the ancient טעות סופר (scribe's error)

  7. Victor Mair said,

    January 10, 2023 @ 4:31 pm

    From Jeff Tigay:

    Hi, Nili,

    I hadn't thought of that, and as somebody who makes more typos than most people do I should have!

  8. Victor Mair said,

    January 12, 2023 @ 8:35 pm

    From TIC Redux:

    Many thanks to Dr. Mair, and to all who provided learned input, for earnestly pursuing what I feared might prove to be a dumb question with a simple answer — either that it's a silly, fabricated word from a silly movie, or that it's a real word that even the feeblest of search engineers, like me, should've been able to nail down easily… I must admit that much of the above discussion is waaay over my head… It's all Gree . . err . . . uhh . . . Hebrew to me… If a consensus theory / answer has emerged, I'd greatly appreciate it if someone would be so kind as to summarize it (aka, dumb it down) for a lowbrow like me… Again, many thanks!…

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