Some key biblical terms that were directly transliterated from the Hebrew have ended up with unforeseen meanings in the lexicons of various recipient languages.

Take, for example, the English word “cherub,” from Hebrew “kĕrȗb.” Whereas the original Hebrew term meant something like “angelic being that is represented as part human, part animal” (…), the English word now means something like “a person, especially a child, with an innocent or chubby face.” Semantic shift has been conditioned in English by the Renaissance artistic tradition that portrayed cherubim in the guise of cute little Greek cupids. This development was of course impossible to foresee at the time when the first English translations borrowed this Hebrew word into the English Bible tradition, following the pattern of borrowing set by the Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament.

In Russian, the semantic shift of this transliteration was somewhat different: the -îm ending of “kĕrūbîm,” originally signifying plurality in Hebrew, has been reanalyzed as merely the final part of the lexical item, so that the term херувим (kheruvim) in Russian is a singular count noun, not a plural one. (A similar degrammaticalization is seen in English writers who render the Hebrew plural kĕrūbîm as “cherubims.”) Apparently, this degrammaticalization of the Hebrew ending is what led the Russian Synodal translator of Genesis 3:24 to mistakenly render the Hebrew as saying that the Lord God placed a kheruvim (accusative masculine singular in Russian) to the east of the garden of Eden, instead of indicating a plural number of such beings. (Source: Vitaly Voinov in The Bible Translator 2012, p. 17ff. )

In Ngäbere the Hebrew that is translated in English as “cherub” is translated as “heavenly guard” (source: J. Loewen 1980, p. 107), in Nyamwezi as v’amalaika v’akelubi or “Cherubim-Angel” to add clarity, in Vidunda as “winged creature,” in Makonde as “winged creature from heaven” (source for this and two before: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext), and in Bura-Pabir as “good spirit with wings” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin).

In Northern Pashto it is either translated as “heavenly creature” (Afghan Pashto Bible, publ. 2023) or “winged creature” (Holy Bible in Pakistani [Yousafzai] Pashto, publ. 2020) (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin).

In French Sign Language it is translated with a sign that combines “angel” and “spinning sword” (referring to Genesis 3:24):

“Cherub” in French Sign Language (source: La Bible en langue des signes française )

See also seraph and ark of the covenant.