Word of the Week – Religion

Word of the Week – Religion

The English word religion has been around a long time…like, as long as there was English. That’s no surprise, right? And also no surprise is that it has always carried the meaning of “action or conduct indicating belief in and reverence for a divine power one seeks to please” as well as “a life bound by monastic vows.”

What’s interesting is the root of this common word. It comes from Latin, which isn’t surprising either, but while the Latin religionem does indeed mean “respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods” and so on, Cicero is actually credited with creating this noun from the verb relegere, which literally means “go through it again” or “reread.”

Isn’t that interesting? I’d never thought about it that way, but systems of religion are indeed built on dwelling on thoughts, rereading sacred texts, going through it again and again and again. This is why pretty much every religion on the planet ends up with rites and rituals and creeds, Christianity being no exception. It’s through repetition that we learn a thing and discover its depths.

It’s also worth noting that many later ancients thought religionem was in fact derived from religare, which means “to bind fast.” So though we can, in fact, trace the word to Cicero, that “binding fast” has greatly informed its use and development as well.

Word of the Week – Pray

Word of the Week – Pray

One of my goals for the year is to spend more time in prayer …. But then, that begged the question of what prayer is, exactly. I always thought I knew, but it turns out I kinda didn’t.

In my mind, prayer was an act of worship. But in fact, pray means simply “to ask earnestly, to beg” (that meaning in English dates to the 1200s and is taken from Latin precari, which means the same thing). In the 14th century, it also began to mean “to invite.” You’ve probably come across this in some books, where characters say, “I pray thee, come and see…” (Interestingly, by Colonial days, this has been contracted to prithee or just shortened to pray.) Either way, the meaning conveys earnest asking, but NOT worship. Worship is something else altogether. So while, yes, we pray to God—and we shouldn’t pray to just any god—and our prayer can be adoration of Him, which is worship, there’s a distinction that I hadn’t fully comprehended. And one that greatly affects my own understanding of what it really means to pray.

Word of the Week – Holiday

Word of the Week – Holiday

I’ve shared the etymology of holiday before, back in 2011, but I figured ten years is enough time that I can revisit. 😉

I always find this one kind of funny…at least when people object to people saying “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas.” My opinion has always been that the joke is on anyone who thinks they’re avoiding the “religious” aspect of anything by using the word, given that it is quite literally just an elision of holy and day.

Yep. Pretty easy etymology on this one!

Holiday is an old word, dating from the 1300s, to mean “a holy day, consecrated day, religious anniversary.” Of course, a holy day meant a day when you were excused from your labors, so that sense of “a day without work” soon joined the idea as well.

Interestingly, in the mid 1800s, people in England would say “Happy Holidays” during the summer, in reference to school being out. It wasn’t until a 1930s Camel cigarette ad that anyone ever said “Happy Holidays” in reference to the Christmas season–who knew? (Though I maintin it makes sense when referring the season that encompasses Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. Three holidays deserves the plural!)

Regardless, I pray you’re enjoying your holiday season and that you pause to reflect not just on the recreational aspect, but on the true meaning of the word — the holiness of the day we celebrate.

Word of the Week – Decadent

Word of the Week – Decadent

Decadent. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word, I think of ooey-gooey chocolate … maybe caramel … something rich and satisfying and the highest heights of delightful.

Turns out, I’m a victim of a 1970s-and-onward advertising hijack of the word. Advertisers seized the word and began using it to describe desserts. The thing is … it doesn’t mean that at all.

What it actually means is “in a state of decline or decay (from a former condition of excellence).” It dates from the 1830s in English but is directly from a French word that means “decay.” Um … ew. Why are we using that for desserts??

Originally in English, the word was used to describe literary or artistic movements that were in a state of decline or past their heyday. Then it began to be used for pleasures that would only appeal to people of dubious morals or poor taste … and from there it just came to be associated with “pleasurable.”

Gotta love those words that have been totally flipped on their heads!

Word of the Week – Authority

Word of the Week – Authority

Last week I took a look at the etymology of the word author (which you’d have thought I’d looked up long ago, right??), and I mentioned its interesting connection to the word authority…which is, of course, what we’re looking at today!

To be honest, I assumed that author came first, and that authority is a form that came afterward. And if you’re tracing it back to Latin, that’s the case. However, in English, authority actually entered the language at least 100 years, possibly as many as 150, before author did!

When it entered English, it was with the meaning of “authoritative passage or statement, book or quotation that settles an argument, passage from Scripture.” By around 1300, it meant “legal validity,” or else a trustworthy text or doctrine (as opposed to experience). It wasn’t until the mid-14th century that it took on the meaning of “right to rule or command, power to enforce obedience, power or right to command or act.” And then by around 1400, we get the meaning of “officially sanctioned.” Interestingly, it wasn’t until the early 1600s that people began using authority to simply mean “the person in authority” and not until the mid 1800s did it come to mean “the police.” I had no idea that last one was so new!

Word of the Week – Author

Word of the Week – Author

I can’t believe I’ve never looked this one up before, but…clearly I hadn’t, LOL. Because I was completely surprised to learn that author did not originally mean “writer.” Did you know that??

Author has been in use in English since the mid-1300s, taken from the Latin auctor (via French), which means “promoter, producer, father, progenitor; builder, founder; trustworthy writer, authority; historian; performer, doer; responsible person, teacher.” Literally, “one who causes to grow.” So originally, author was used for any creator!

However, it didn’t take long for it to take on special meaning for those who write. By the end of the 1300s, it was being used to differentiate one who created a written work from people who transcribed, translated, or compiled it.

Even more interesting is how it relates to the word authority…which we’ll look at next week. 😉