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Posts Tagged ‘dictionary’

Donkey – Who hasn’t heard of Mary riding into Bethlehem on a donkey?  Well, before the late 1700’s, no one had.  This word entered our language as slang (ironic since it replaced the word ass, which has come to have quite the list of its own slang definitions since).  Donkey is perhaps a diminutive (smaller or junior version) term for a dun, a small horse. The word dun is an old color word meaning “dull grey-brown”.

 

Ass – Is one of the few words classified as cussing, swearing, profane, or generally “bad” that I will speak, as it is found in the Old King James Bible, and also in “What Child is This?”  Etymologists seem to agree that this name for the animal comes from the Middle East.  Whether the name comes from the word meaning “strong” and a sense of stubbornness or docile patience, or if that word derived from the beast’s behavior, I can’t tell, but they do seem to be related.

 

Oxen – Beside the ass in “What Child Is This?” we find an ox kneeling at the Lord’s manger.  Our language’s history is replete with plurals formed by adding –en, but according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, this is the only true continuous survival of such a plural into Modern English.  As best I can tell, the early origins of this animal name refer to the male, and mean “to sprinkle”, referring to their fertility.  In some religions, the gods of fertile fields are pictured as bulls or oxen, for this reason. I think the Proto-Indo-European root, *uks-en-, and the Sanskrit attestation, uksa, sound like yak, but no one else has seemed to notice, except the Edenics researchers, who cite Sanskrit gayal; Hebrew ‘agol, “calf”, from a sense of “round” or “going around”; and Hebrew aqqow, translated “wild goat” in KJV, and from a root meaning “to groan” – which I will note is indicative of hard work, which oxen and yaks are more wont to do than goats.

 

Sheep – The animals actually appearing in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth are sheep.  While Scandinavian languages use a word like faar for “sheep”, and Gothic languages use relatives of lamb, and other Indo-European words are similar to ewe, our word sheep has been in the Germanic family for a while.  Wiktionary hints that sheep may be from the same root as shave – referring to the importance of the animal’s sheered wool?  We use the same word for one sheep or many, but in Old Northumbrian, the plural is scipo.

 

Lamb – After consulting multiple etymology dictionaries, and none of them having any insight into the sense of the word lamb, I checked the Edenics sites.  Edenics is somewhat appealing to me in that it credits meaning to sound and spelling, and does a good job compiling words with similar spellings and intriguing analogies in meanings.  They don’t do such a good job tracing transitional words through history in literature, leaving them in a different category from traditional etymologists.  So.  Lekhem is, in Hebrew, “bread, food, flesh” – possibly from a root meaning “to make war”.  It may be a stretch, but by Ezra’s time, Aramaic had ‘immar for “lamb”, the root maybe indicating “something that is called or brought forth, progeny”.  Because L’s and R’s can shift in pronunciations, it is even possible that this and the Hebrew word for wool, tsemer (think Merino) could be related to lamb: swap out the R for the L and reverse the order.  Arabic lahm means “meat”.  Dutch lichaam is “body”.  Finnish has a word for an animal (a sheep?), lammas.  Is this the source of llama, or is it related to our next Christmas animal, the camel?

 

Camel – Traditionally, three wise men arrive in the Christmas story with their caravan of camels bearing gifts to the star-heralded King.  Camel comes from Hebrew gamal (which is even the name of one of their letters), and might be related to Arabic jamala, “to bear”.  Some Edenics writers think that llamas, as the primary beast of burden in South America, may trace their name from a similar source.

 

Besides the animals appearing in the Christian story of the Incarnation, our traditions have come to include several other animals in the seasonal festivities.

 

Reindeer – In some languages, rein or its equivalents stand alone as the word for this animal.  It seems to have to do with the impressive growth of horns on their heads.  The suggested root is PIE base *ker- which would associate it with the Greek for ram, krios.

 

Deer – Before the 1400’s, this word just meant “animal”, a word distinguishing creatures from humans, usually applied only to wild animals.  Its origins are from words that have to do with breathing, thus separating this class of creation out from life which has no breath (a rather biblical concept).  This same thought-pattern is said to have given us the word animal from Latin animus (“breath”).

 

Polar bearPole is from Latin polus, Greek polos, “pivot, axis of a sphere”.  Some say it is from a root meaning “turn round” and having to do with concepts of turning, rolling, and wheels.  An etymology I find less likely suggests a root meaning “stake”, “to nail or fasten”.

 

Bear is one of the most interesting etymologies.  Most etymologists say that it is named for the color brown, which makes it kind of funny that we apply it to so many similar creatures – by class like polar bears, or appearance like koalas and pandas – that have different colors!  Beaver is also said to derive its name from the same color root, *bher-.  And a Greek cognate, phrynos, meaning “brown animal”, applies to toads!

 

An alternative etymology for bear is one that relates it to words meaning “wild”, like Latin ferus.  The Proto-Indo-European root would then be *ǵʰwer-.  If you follow Edenics, you might be interested in their similar etymology of bear (and boar) to roots B-R, F-R, and P-R all associated with wilderness and lawlessness – the outskirts of civilization.

 

Bears are classically associated with the poles (which are also on the outskirts of civilization, unless you heed the rumors about an elvish toy workshop), especially the north, because of the constellation Ursa Major.  Ursa is from the Latin for bear.  The Greek for bear is arktos, from whence we get our word arctic.
Boar – There is a carol introduced to me by Archibald Asparagus from Veggie Tales, called “The Boar’s Head Carol”.  Apparently it is also on Josh Garrels’ new Christmas album.  It’s the only reason I know to connect boars with Christmas, and it is probably more accurately derived from Yule traditions, but I can’t have mere boring things like sheep and donkeys in my list!  The origin of this word is unclear, probably because, like most animal names, for a very long time it has just referred to the creature we know by this name.  All sorts of Germanic peoples have basically called it the same thing.  One not-well established hypothesis associates this word with Lithuanian baĩsas , “terrible apparition” and Old Church Slavonic běsŭ, “demon”.  As I mentioned above, it might actually come from a word meaning “wild”.  Demons are also rebels, exiles from the holy forces of God, and capable of appearing as “terrible apparitions”.  Boars, apart from any spiritual creepiness, are pretty terrifying themselves.  I think of the kid from Old Yeller hiding in a tree while ravenous wild pigs bite at his leg.

 

Goose – In the old days, goose was a favorite Christmas entrée.  Before goose, it was gos, like gosling, and before that it was gans, like gander.  The theory is that gans and similar words for geese and swans in other languages are imitative of the honking these birds make.

 

Puppy – Finally, puppies have begun to appear under Christmas trees with big red bows around their necks, calculated to bless the hearts of small children. The word came into our language in the late 15th Century, applied to a woman’s small pet dog, instead of the larger and fiercer breeds kept by men for shepherding or hunting.  In the Middle French, whence we get the word, it was a toy or a doll, sharing its ancestry with puppet.  Original root words had to do with children and smallness.

 

Credits to

The Online Etymology Dictionary

Wiktionary

Edenics

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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If you ever get that craving to find treasure, just for the thrill of finding, get into words.  Open a dictionary, read the definition that catches your eye first, and ask yourself questions.  What did that one word mean in the definition?  What are the root words, and where are they from?  How is that word related to other words that sound or are spelled similarly but whose definitions you never before associated?  Is there a list of synonyms?  How are they similar to the first word?  What variations do they put on it?

If you get really interested in the hunt, pick up a book about interesting words.  There are many of them.  I have been a fan of JRR Tolkien for years, and his books contain many interesting words.  In one reading of Lord of the Rings, I kept a list.  Even if the words were familiar, I listed ones that sounded good, or that had an intriguing spelling – words that stood out.  Then I started looking up their definitions and etymologies.  There is a book I’m reading now, Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary.  Over half of the book is word studies.

You can learn interesting things, like the history of “ent.”  It comes from old Germanic and Norse words for giants.  In those ancient days when the word was in common use, the writers attributed still older ruined cities and half-remembered mythologies to “ents.”

Or you can start wondering about words.  How is dwarf related to orcs and ogres?  To rocks?  Especially in mythology, and very intentionally in Tolkien’s myths, relations between words reflect relations between the objects they describe.  If the word “dwarf” derives from a word for “rock,” then maybe dwarves themselves come from rocks.

EVEN if you are wrong (as I often am) you’ve started your imagination on a great story.  And along the way, you’ve undoubtedly found some absorbing treasures of words and history.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I was watching a movie with my brothers last night, and the scene was one of those notorious “opportune moments.” The hero had a chance to confess his love – or tell the truth – or something useful, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. But he had planned ahead and brought with him a little gift, which he laid on the table between himself and the lady.

 

My brother summed their plight with the poetic description: He laid a gift on the moment’s grave.

 

Tonight I was reading the dictionary – not just to read it, but as one does when one is trying to get somewhere in those pages, and must journey through dangers and distractions like those of Odysseus. (I’m such a terrible speller of Greek; is that right? I am only newly acquainted even with the story of Odysseus, and most disappointed in his character.) My brother is reading The Federalist Papers, great essays on government and history and economics, which employed the word “temerity.” It happens to mean foolhardy or brash, but before I discovered this, I saw a picture.

 

To be honest, I almost always get caught by pictures, and carried away by root words. That is the way dictionaries have with me. This picture was of a little hog-like rodent, and the caption was like a Boggle-champion’s dream: tenrec. How simple. How very likely to occur in Boggle. How unheard of. Honestly. Have you ever heard of a tenrec?

 

No? Well, I suppose that is to be forgiven, since it, like so many interesting creatures, makes its home on Madagascar. The tenrec is a hedgehog-like mammal that eats insects (thus the nose looking like a pig’s, though it could have looked like an anteater and made itself more obvious). Our dictionary’s entry reported that this beast inhabits Madagascar and the adjacent islands.

 

Adjacent Islands!!! Who ever thought? Almost an oximoron! I mean, we’re not talking about islands connected at low tide but not at high. Maybe they were connected during the ice age. But then they weren’t islandS; they were AN island. So my meticulous brother commanded (he’s the one with leadership skills) that I look up “adjacent.” And it turns out that “adjacent” has as its first definition, “to lie near.” Still, I think that “Adjacent Islands” would be a great title for something. The image is so poetic.

 

Movies are almost always on in my house, maybe coming from so many of us enjoying long movies, or maybe because there are so many of us who think we need our own turn at choosing the program. Tonight there was yet another movie, and it was simply horrible, because the message of the movie was that when grown ups lie to children, the children owe it to them to sort of believe, because they want to believe, and miracles happen when you believe… The end of the movie had very little to do with this subject, as it consisted of the main little girl receiving three separate pairs of roller skates for Christmas. The last pair came from a blind man. And the little girl responded that she had a gift for him, her arms now full of metal and wheels. The most natural thing to expect her to give was a pair of roller skates. But then we pictured a blind man skating down the road… Don’t give such gifts to blind men!
 
Oh!  I signed up for all sorts of restaurant email updates, and have coupons and freebies rolling in!  Mostly they just want to give me something free with purchase, but I have plenty of choices!  There is something so pleasing about having a coupon in one’s purse.  Tonight I used a Kohl’s discount they sent in the mail, and saved a whole $1.50!  The best sign-up’s so far are Coldstone Creamery, Red Robins, and Lone Star Steakhouse.  Wendy’s gives a coupon for a dollar off.  But I’m still waiting to see what happens on my birthday.  I’ll let you know. 
 
The movie from last night (Wednesday) was Sense and Sensibility.  There are 4 versions I know anything about.  The earliest was made by BBC in the 70’s or 80’s, and according to my brother, who picked it up by mistake, is acted by robots who sit on teeter-totters sideways trying to converse with each other.  Next in importance/quality is a strange version made in India.  In fact, I believe the English is dubbed.  Not anywhere near as good as India’s Bride and Prejudice.  Now we come to the competitors.  In the 90’s, Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay for Sense and Sensibility.  She also starred as Elinor.  Alongside her were Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet, the latter reporting that she scarcely had to act; her personality was so much like Marianne Dashwood that Kate simply had to play the part.  That movie is beautiful.  Funny.  Sad.  Thoughtful.  With the exultantly happy ending highlighted by the perfect score.  I have my objections.  Hugh Grant – he’s not handsome, and his stuttering is annoying.  Colonel Brandon (I should know his name) isn’t very handsome, either, and Jane Austen movies aren’t known for their realism, so we should aim for attractive.  Finally, the version we were watching is the latest BBC adaptation, made in 2008.  It is about 3 hours long, with pretty scenery.  Other than that, the characters are poor imitators of the really good Sense and Sensibility.  Andrew Davies failed to convey emotion with his screenplay, and I don’t think most of the actors understood their characters.  The movie has its moments of interest.  Anyway, the actor who plays Colonel Brandon was recognized by all watching, but we couldn’t place him, so I looked him up.  IMDB is great!  I have been spending a lot of time there lately, for one reason or another.  The actor is David Morrissey, whom I recognized from The Water Horse.  Ah, the relief of answers! 
 
Have a good night.  Don’t waste your day. 
 
To God be all glory.

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Recently I was thinking of several words that remind me of each other, if for no other reason than that they begin with L and are long words.  Those account for the first three members of this list.  The latter reflect extra interesting or important expressions I ran across during my composition. 

litigious – inclined to dispute or disagree, argue; desiring to make something the subject of a lawsuit

liturgical – of or pertaining to: a form of public worship, ritual; a collection of formularies for public worship; a particular arrangement of services; a particular form or type of the Eucaristic service. 

lethargic – being drowsy and dull, listless and unenergetic, or indifferent and lazy; apathetic or sluggish inactivity.

lackadaisical – without interest, vigor, or determination; listless; lethargic; lazy or indolent

literal – in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical

lambent – running or moving lightly over a surface; dealing lightly and gracefully with a subject, brilliantly playful; softly bright or radiant

latent – present but not visible, apparent, or actualized; existing as potential

Thanks to Dictionary.com for supplying the definitions. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Apparently one of my favorite pet hobbies is worse than unpopular.  It’s irrelevant to the world around me.  I love to study words.  Their roots and history, and how they got from start to present, are fascinating to me.  When I find the etymology of a word, I feel like that word is full of color and life and intense meaning that before was cloudy and uncertain.  When I write I want the best word not only to say exactly what I mean, but with the tone and connotations I intend.  Etymology helps me do that (I hope). 

In any case, being a linguist helped JRR Tolkien.  Jane Austen and Charles Dickens also employed word selection to aid their plots and descriptions.  The more I improve my vocabulary, the more I appreciate classic authors and their works.  I marvel at the subconscious effect their word choice had on me before I understood.  Their literature comes alive when I really know what their language indicates. 

But today, in an increasingly post-modern, non-absolutist, highly individual world, adhering to one definition for a word is less feasible than adhering to one faith in one truth about one reality.  And this makes debate completely useless.  This makes computerized discernment and classification impossible.  In other words, we can no longer test someone’s words to see what they believe.  Either they sound heretical, but were really just trying to use hip lingo and got sloppy, or they sound orthodox and mean something mystical.  In both cases knowledge of what the words inherently mean, and are supposed to still mean, is no help at all.  In fact, it’s confusing. 

So what we need instead of the computerized classification or test such as evangelicals gave to presidential candidates last century (asking them whether they were born-again; how long do you think it took for the candidates to catch on and learn to say the right thing?  They’re politicians!), is real discernment.  People who have studied truth need to test all things, but not with clichés.  They need to pray for God to guide them with His eyes.  They need to be Samuel, who so leaned on God’s insight, who yielded to God’s vision of man’s heart instead of human sight of the outward appearance. 

There is a spiritual gift, like teaching, like giving, like service, and like compassion.  Through the supernatural empowering of the Holy Spirit, those who have called on the name of the Lord and are therefore indwelt by the Holy Spirit and led by Him into all truth need to examine the words of men and discern spirits.  After studying the gift of discernment, I think there are several reasons Paul calls it “discerning of spirits.”  This analysis provides another reason: in a postmodern culture that defies definitions, discerning words is basically useless.  We need to discern (discover, classify, penetrate, understand, identify as true or false) where a speaker is coming from, and what they really mean. 

The other reasons I have considered are: 1.  Discernment is spiritual.  It has to do with the spirit-world, and can often involve identifying demonic activity or influence.  2.  Discernment of a spirit can be of a message, due to the Greek word (pneuma)’s double meaning of breath and spirit.  3.  Discernment might have to do with insight into the spiritual needs of an individual.  Beyond whether an individual is right or wrong, where are they weak and where are they strong?  What is the spiritual reality going on in their life, behind the service and the teaching or the sin and the doubt? 

I believe God gifts members of His body as needed to see all these things, and I believe there is an incredible need in the Church today for those who can identify the spiritual truth of a situation, message, or person.  These people, using their gifts, are an incredible contribution to the community and cooperation of believers.  They are indispensable in edification.  And in a world where there are many books, many teachers, and much mesmerizing media, the Church needs to seek God’s direction and discretion as they choose their courses of ministry and belief. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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When there is No Perfect Word

What to do when you need a word and find none that means exactly what you intend:

  1. Use poetry to circumscribe your meaning.
  2. Employ a simile to make a series of direct comparisons.
  3. Blog a new word (that sounds good!) into existence, and use it anyway:

Homescent – completely reminiscent of home, domestic in aura only, something commonplace yet sacred that would be done on a family vacation, or on a Saturday when the to-do list is done, spreading an attitude of peace like the smell of bread baking spreads through a house, having the essence of simplicity and love

A rebellion against the word “homey” which is no more in the dictionary than my word, and which sounds nothing like the actual sentimental experience of homescence. If it were a dead scene, merely visual, one might say quaint. The sound alone might be “familiar.” Yet the word for which we wander encompasses the entire progressive experience, the interaction between all those senseable aspects and the soul, the will-ing, moving participant in life.

Title Page of Volume I of the English Dictionary by Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84), Pub. in 1755
Title Page of Volume I of the English Dictionary by Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84), Pub. in 1755

Two more words:
Senseable – able to be sensed using: sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell

Will-ing – the act of choosing to do something; this action always produces effort. Not to be confused with willing, a state of agreement or potential choice (like the difference between kinetic – will-ing – energy and potential – willing – energy).To God be all glory.

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