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Posts Tagged ‘etymology’

JRR Tolkien reported that he discovered his stories and the world of Middle Earth.  Bilbo’s complaint that Gandalf took him home from the Lonely Mountain by much too direct a route is perhaps a testimony of Tolkien’s own experience with the Hobbit and subsequently the Lord of the Rings.  Even though the legends of the elves were sprawling through Tolkien’s imagination long before either the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings were published, we know that Lothlorien and Fangorn – and the stories swirling and marching out of them (respectively) – were unexpected developments that Tolkien met as he traveled with Frodo and his companions to the War of the Ring.

To many people, Tolkien’s description of his sub-creation is merely a metaphor for the creative process.  An idea wasn’t in mind before and then unfolds faster than we can write it or say it aloud, as though the whole were in existence before we thought of it.  But for Tolkien, there was more literal (and literary) truth to discovering his characters and stories than I would have guessed.  Especially in the Lord of the Rings, peoples and places were dynamically inspired by meditations on words.

The lore-master of Middle Earth discovered that fantastic age in the associations and nuances of English.  English being only the top level.  He didn’t just borrow an archaic term to sound old or fantastic (as so many pretentious fantasy-novelists do today).  Involved in the study was a lot of Old English, Old Norse, Germanic and even Celtic derivations.  Tolkien hoarded word-mathoms, specimens of language passed around and hidden in old literature, buried in place-names.  Believing that language bore record of a people with creativity, wisdom, and art worth recovering, Tolkien studied and meditated on this vocabulary.  Meanings all-but-forgotten, he restored them, often telling a story in which multiple definitions took living form.  Or if the meaning really was entirely lost, like the purposes of some mathoms, Tolkien upcycled them, making all new but deeply appropriate uses of obscure terms.

One of the easiest examples may be Ent.  In Tolkien’s mythology, Ents are shepherds of the trees, ancient forest-keepers.  They do many things, but most importantly they bring down the corrupted wizard, Saruman, by destroying his stone city, Isengard.  Ent comes from an old English word from which we also get the word “giant.”  The word is also associated with trolls, the large stone-people.  Giants in old mythology were credited with writing the pre-historic epics and constructing the marvelous architecture known to the medieval people only as mysterious ruins.  Tolkien pulled all of these things together in the character and origin of the Ents, and in their stone-dominating assault on Isengard.

Perhaps Lord of the Rings was so successful because Tolkien tapped our own imaginations, our nightmares and our memories, our own ways of talking about those things.  We feel that Middle Earth is part of us because it came from the same places we did.  The Hobbit was nursery-fable, not entirely devoid of the word study that made Tolkien’s other work great, but mostly a hodge-podge of mythology and adventure.  The Silmarillion studied not only the English words and Germanic epics at the root of English and American imagination, but also delved into Greek myths, and more obscure stories (like the Finnish Kaelevala).  The Elvish languages have more to do with Celtic.  All those sources were more remote than the wights and wargs and farthings and elves that resonate with the first audience of Lord of the Rings, the English.

Enormous creativity is required to make stories – especially as complex as Lord of the Rings – out of word definitions and roots.  But it also takes genius to hold so many facts and references in mind at once, seeing comparison and contrast, projecting backwards, remembering how the ancient form of the word was used in some obscure poem.  Thomas A. Shippey’s biography of Tolkien first alerted me to this aspect of his work some years ago, but The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary goes much farther.  A word can be a poem or a story or a mythology or just a really-neat sound.  Tolkien delighted in and brought out all of these.

For more information, look to the Letters of JRR Tolkien and the History of Middle Earth (a series of books containing early manuscripts of Middle Earth stories and also containing glossaries and word-explanations for the languages of middle earth).  I highly recommend that you pick up The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner.  It contains over a hundred studies of words either invented or revived by JRR Tolkien or associated with him and his work.

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 having a conversation about the economy last week, and my friend was talking about how to thrive in a recession.  And I recommended thrift.  Which made me think.  Thrift and Thrive have very similar spellings.  Are they related?

Thrift – c.1300, “fact or condition of thriving,” also “prosperity, savings,” from M.E. thriven “to thrive” (see thrive), possibly infl. by O.N.þrift, variant of þrif “prosperity,” from þrifask “to thrive.” Sense of “habit of saving, economy” first recorded 1550s

Spendthrift – c.1600, from spendthrift in sense of “savings, profits, wealth.” Replaced earlier scattergood (1570s) and spend-all (1550s).

Prodigal – mid-15c., back formation from prodigiality (mid-14c.), from O.Fr. prodigalite (13c.), from L.L. prodigalitatem (nom. prodigalitas) “wastefulness,” from L. prodigus “wasteful,” from prodigere “drive away, waste,” from pro- “forth” + agere “to drive” (see act). First ref. is to prodigial son, from Vulgate L. filius prodigus (Luke xv.11-32).

(see also the American Heritage Definition #2 of Prodigal: Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse)

Profuse – early 15c., from L. profusus “spread out, lavish, extravagant,” lit. “poured forth,” prop. pp. of profundere “pour forth,” from pro-“forth” + fundere “to pour” (see found (2)).

Wastrel – “spendthrift, idler,” 1847, from waste (v.) with pejorative suffix (cf. mongrel, scoundrel, doggerel).

Thrive – c.1200, from O.N. þrifask “to thrive,” originally “grasp to oneself,” probably from O.N. þrifa “to clutch, grasp, grip” (cf. Swed.trifvas, Dan. trives “to thrive, flourish”), of unknown origin.

Prosper – mid-15c., from O.Fr. prosperer (14c.), from L. prosperare “cause to succeed, render happy,” from prosperus “favorable, fortunate, prosperous,” perhaps lit. “agreeable to one’s wishes,” from Old L. pro spere “according to expectation,” from pro “for” + abl. of spes “hope,” from PIE base *spei- “to flourish, succeed.”

Flourish – c.1300, “to blossom, grow,” from O.Fr. floriss-, stem of florir, from L. florere “to bloom, blossom, flower,” from flos “a flower” (seeflora). Metaphoric sense of “thrive” is mid-14c. Meaning “to brandish (a weapon)” first attested late 14c. Related: Flourished;flourishing. The noun meaning “literary or rhetorical embellishment” is from c.1600.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Once upon a time I was a high school student, who chose as her foreign language the fine and elegant French.  Because these courses are all about being practical and conversational, I focused on learning numbers, names of random household objects, days of the week, and names of countries.  These are the intriguing parts of language, probably the least relevant to the distinctions among the tongues.  Days of the week, months of the year, and names of places are some of the most fascinating studies in history and myth, and the migrating peoples.  Here in the United States, we call the “Fatherland,” that great military empire of the 19th and 20th centuries, boasting Kaisers and Fuhrers, Germany.  The Germans themselves call their empire Deutschland.  And upon learning French, I discovered that the passionately peaceful peasants (except during anarchic revolutions) named Germany, Allemagne. 

 

Usually my little brain is creatively making associations and speculations about where words came from, but here I was stuck.  Names and titles are interesting things, because they are only rarely required to have a relationship to definitions.  For example, in studying the etymologies of country names, I came across several (20th century inventions, mostly) whose names meant “land of the free.”  Others seem arbitrary – or even derogatory, bestowed on the people by hostile neighbors. 

 

Join me, then, as we briefly navigate the history of the world as told by the naming of nations.  Let’s begin our tour with Germany. 

 

German is first attested in writings of Julias Caesar, probably the name of an individual tribe.  Speculation on the roots of the word range from a Celtic word for “to shout” or the Germanic gar, meaning “spear.”  Part of the problem is that Germany is an empire, a collection of tribes, so that there is wide selection of names that accurately apply to large swaths of the German countryside.  English (which has had its own fair share of invading languages and kings) formerly used the French (Allemagne, “land of all the men” i.e. “our many tribes” used to denote foreigners – compare to the words alien and else.) and the German (Deutschland – “land of the people”) to refer to the country.  I cannot find out when we started calling the land Germany almost universally, but neither can I discover when the Deutschland came into use, or Allemagne.  Since they all come from ancient tribal names, none is more correct than the other – except that we might want to give precedence to what people choose to call themselves.

 

Dutch, whose name is obviously of the same root as Deutschland, is first recorded in official correspondence from Charlemagne’s reign, when it referred to Germans in general.  It means “belonging to the people” from the root þeod “people, race, nation,” actually sharing a root with another word for Germans, Teutonic (Proto-Indo-European *teuta– “people” or in Old Prussian, tauto “country”). 

 

Interestingly enough, the Polish word for Germany is Nemetsy/Niemcy which means “land of the mute.”  Mute is the way some people described others who couldn’t speak the common language.  It’s rather ethnocentric, but goes to illustrate what I was saying about getting a name from a neighbor.  (It has been suggested that the word barbarian, baby, babble, and infant all come from that same general idea: they’re talking, but we can’t understand them.  And this whole language problem is indivisible from that Biblical account of Babel.  Imagine a decade or so after the tower project was interrupted by the confusion of languages.  One forcibly-separated tribe runs into another with a speech frustratingly meaningless to the first, and they both look at each other and recite a place name, Babel.  That’s the word for it.  History explains; this is why.  How often do you get why’s in these strange questions of etymology?) 

 

Welsh is another name for a country, granted by its Saxon (another occasional word for Germany or Germans) neighbors.  It was used long ago to mean “Celtic” or simply “foreign.”  G’s and W’s are interchangeable due to accents and evolution of languages, so Welsh is actually quite close to Gael and Gaul.  The Welsh have their own name for themselves – or at least they did back when people cared about languages and less about this up and coming global society.  Cymru is that little country on the British Isles, meaning “compatriots.”  Cambria and Cumberland are derived from this name.  The Welsh were kinder to the Germanic invaders, and generally referred to them by their own name, Saxon (adapted to sound Gaelic).  Or this might have been a bitter term of respect, since the tribe seems to have been named for swords, Saxon having the same root (most likely) as saw.  Saxon is a word that shows up almost everywhere, including in those English counties Essex, Sussex, and the Gaelic term for a foreign ruler, Sassenach. 

 

Another pretty word referring to the Gaels is Brythons.  Great Britain and British are the common forms of this name today.  There is a dialect called Breton (which is really beautiful if you ever get to hear it spoken or sung).  Before Christ, Greek records describe the peoples with the term Prittanoi, “tattooed people.”  It only came into official use as a name for England when King James I  (who was definitely the Scottish King, and got the British crown after Elizabeth was done with it by reason of being a distant cousin of that childless queen – and if you think how we got names of countries is complicated, take a look at the ancestry of the famous King James!) called his country that at his coronation.  It was made official 100 years later when Scotland (more properly British by racial descent) was joined to England.   

 

Scotland’s name is so old that we aren’t sure what it means.  The English called the inhabitants of Ireland Scottas, and that was an idea they picked up from the Romans (Latin).  Speculation born purely out of the similar sound says that the term may have come from an Irish insult, “a term of scorn,” scuit.  But I have no idea what that word means.  In Gaelic Scotland is Alba, from the Indo-European for “white,” supposedly referring to the white chalk around Dover or some association with mountains (similarity to Alps).  In Latin Scotland was also called Caledonia, which is “good waters” in Greek.  (Apparently the Greeks and Romans hung out a little more than the Greeks and the Persians, despite each being successive empires of the known world.) 

 

I’ve mentioned the Irish a couple times.  Their etymology is pretty simple.  It comes from Erin, a word referring to fertility of land, and animals and people.  Whether the goddess Eire got her name from this word or vice versa, she was the goddess of fertility in the pagan mythology of the Gaels. 

  

Another country whose name is most likely from a god is Egypt, which supposedly means “temple of the soul of Ptah” (this is Egyptian, and was their name for the city of Memphis), although some say it comes from the Greek, “land below the Aegean sea” which in its Latin form is Aegyptus.  In the Bible the country is named for its founder, Mizraim, who was one of the sons of Ham, the son of Noah.  In Hebrew the word has meaning, “straits or narrow places,” referring to the distribution of civilization along the Nile.  Other Arabic definitions of this word mean “city” or “to settle or found.”  In Coptic, Egypt is Kême “black land” describing the mud after summer floods contrasted with the “red land” of the desert.  (You gotta hear this.  Desert is from the Ancient Egyptian, dsrt.  They should know.) 

 

Ethiopia is a word originally Greek, aithein “to burn” and ops “face.” It was talking about the skin color of the inhabitants.  (However, some sources attribute the name to another descendant of Noah, Ityopp’is, who is supposedly a son of Cush – I don’t know which one from Gen. 10:7 is meant.  But in the Bible, Cush is the name for Ethiopia).  A few hundred years ago, Ethiopia was Abyssinia, derived from the Arabic, meaning “mixed.”  There was actually a mixture of ethnic groups inhabiting that country. 

 

Other biblical places and their name origins are:

            Jordan, named for the river, “descend” of Hebrew and Canaanite origin. 

            Iran means “land of the Aryans” or “land of the free.”  Arya comes from the Proto-Indo-European with a definition of “noble, free.”  In the Bible it is called Persia, which has the same root as paradise, “garden.” 

            Iraq means “between the rivers.”  In the Bible it was Babylon “gate of the gods” in usage, but derived from Babel. 

            Palestine is the Roman name for Israel, literally “land of the Philistines,” and intended as a jibe at the Jews.  Philistine itself is from a Semitic root meaning “invader.”  The Philistines were Phoenician high-tech seafarers who settled on the coast and oppressed Israel living inland. 

 

Spain actually gets its name from the Phoenicians as well, since they had quite the colony and port in Spain.  The Phoenicians called it “isle of hyraxes,” mistaking the abundant hares for the African hyraxes.  The word has changed very little since then.  It began as Î-šəpānîm, was modified to Hispania for Latin, and comes to us today via the French Spagne as Spain. 

 

France is named for a weapon, and actually for a Germanic tribe (who else – named for a weapon?), the Franks.  A frankon was a spear.  Frank became associated with freedom when they ruled over the Gauls.  By contrast, then, to the Gauls, who were essentially slaves, the Franks were free.  Interesting, however, that the people owning and earning the name are not at all the majority of the people traditionally associated with the country of France.  Neither, for that matter, is France typically associated with freedom or weapons. 

 

Italy means “son of a bull god.”  And this one you just can’t skip.  Vatican City comes from a word meaning “to prophesy,” but in a completely pagan way.  The city is built on an old street that used to host fortune tellers and sooth-sayers (obviously before the Christianization of Rome). 

 

Finally, two more interesting names.  One is Siam, which got its name from Myanmar/Burma, its neighbor.  Siam means “land of Gold.”  Siam was changed to Thailand in the first half of the 20th century.  Pakistan is the other interesting name.  Like the demographics of the country itself, the name is a compilation, an acronym made up by Choudhary Rahmat Ali in 1934 well before the region became a country in 1956.  It stands for Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Balochistan.”  

 

You may have noticed that Pakistan has occasional identity crises, and suffers from severe division.  The USA is in a similar situation, but we have heretofore handled our cultural differences considerably better than Pakistan (our primary blemish being the Civil War over 100 years ago). 

 

“Out of the many, one” is a hard thing to achieve.  In honor of the attempt, I close with the much more widely known etymology of the United States of America.  United and States being self-evident, America is the feminine form of Amerigo, the name of a conceited cartographer who made made his name so prominent on his maps that the people, knowing no better, assumed the new world was named Amerigo.  And so it is. 

 

Thank you to the following resources, from which I got almost all of this information:

http://www.teachersparadise.com/ency/en/wikipedia/l/li/list_of_country_name_etymologies.html

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php

http://www.wikipedia.com/

http://www.dictionary.com

http://www.encyclopedia.com

http://www.interestingunusualfacts.com/2008/09/unusualfactsinterestingcountryplaces.html

God’s Word for Windows

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Ramifications

Ram – n. a male sheep or goat, especially with horns. 
 
Ram – v. the act of a ram by which he charges an object or rival ram horns-first. 
 
Ram – v. by extension, any act of heavily-hitting something, particularly with a running start.  Can be used of bumper cars or tree-trunks against a medeival gate. 
 
Battering Ram – n. a long log or pole, sometimes headed with something sharp or toothed, used to strike blows against gates of a beleaguered city in order to destroy the gates and gain entrance. 
 
Ramifications – n. the tremors or other consequences of a ram striking something. 
 
Ramify – v. to create consequences like ripples in the water, various and successive
 
Actually, I didn’t use a dictionary for those.  This amateur etymologist was reading a book today and found the word ramify, which she likes for being so visual.  So imagine her disappointment when she actually looked the words up and discovered that all sources agree that Ramify and Ramifications have nothing to do with sheep.  Battering rams are apparently associated with sheep, but the Online Etymology Dictionary doesn’t know why. 
 
What the dictionaries say is that Ramify is from a Latin root meaning branch, associated with the Latin root meaning root and seen in Radish.  It seems possible that Rams were named for having branches out of their heads.  According to the dictionary Ramifications has nothing to do with impact as much as it does territory; it is the branching consequences of an action.  Ramify would be similar.  I like my description much better, but for etymology to be a science, I suppose there must be evidence. 
 
It has been suggested that Ram, as in the sheep, is associated with a similar word for strong, impetuous, or violent.  Since Ram is the shorter word, it seems more likely that the adjectives are metaphorical derivatives of the noun, describing the animal’s distinctive behavior. 
 
Also to ponder: rampart – 1583, from M.Fr. rempart, from remparer “to fortify,” from re- “again” + emparer “fortify, take possession of,” from O.Prov. amparer, from V.L. *anteparare “prepare,” prop. “to make preparations beforehand,” from L. ante- “before” (see ante) + parare “prepare
 
ramp – 1) To act threateningly or violently; rage. 2) To assume a threatening stance.  3) Heraldry To stand in the rampant position. [Middle English rampen, from Old French ramper, to rear, rise up, of Germanic origin.]
 
rampant – adj.   1) Extending unchecked; unrestrained: a rampant growth of weeds in the neglected yard.  2) Occurring without restraint and frequently, widely, or menacingly; rife: a rampant epidemic; rampant corruption in city government. 
 
rampage – 1715, in Scottish, probably from M.E. verb ramp “rave, rush wildly about” (c.1300), esp. of beasts rearing on their hind legs, as if climbing, from O.Fr. ramper (see ramp, also cf. rampant). The noun is first recorded 1861, from the verb.
 
Hebrew:
07483 ra`mah – thunder; vibration, quivering, waving, mane (of horse)
07215 ra’mah – corals
 
Quotes of definitions taken from Strong’s Concordance as provided by God’s Word for Windows, from Dictionary.com, and from Etymonline.com
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Anne comforted herself sometimes by repeating that she was in the depths of despair, and her dreams were a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.  In such a way am I writing today, to comfort myself by making the insanity of my life sound poetic. 

 

First I must say that I am on the verge of insanity, but fear not – I have every intention of backing away from that brink.  All it will take is a box full of cookies, much time with friends, and all the extra hours of sleep I will not be getting in exchange for said time with friends. 

 

My office is much too busy, yet I am sitting, writing this at my office.  Just prior to this, between imagining these sentences and answering the phone, I was reading a book, another partial cause of my near insanity.  GK Chesterton has been writing to me of the ridiculous that makes life alive.  Funny thing, imagining life to be alive.  I think that is Christ.  He seems to be around every corner of this world, which is a very good reason for sanity. 

 

In fact I love patterns, even the poetic pattern of nuanced changes, the fact that my hair is brown and my corduroys are brown, I wear a brown necklace and in a startling change, a camel-colored bracelet.  As all this is highlighted with gold, I find the effect most wonderful.  It is a glittering accent to the pattern.  A woman came to my office earlier with turquoise and brown beads on her shirt, and similar embroidery on the camisole beneath the shrug.  Her purse I did not get a chance to study, but I have the distinct impression that it followed the theme in brown leather.  My all white office upholstered and carpeted has recently been significantly altered by the introduction of a black chair in the doctor’s half.  There is already a black chair in my half, but I sit in it, and thus have no comment on its effect on the décor as I have about this new one.  Suddenly I am noticing that my clock is black, my appointment book, the mousepad, and one of the phones.  All in all this does not have the art of consistency, but it does have the statement of contrast. 

 

My voice is occasionally interrupted, when I frequently answer the phone, by a cough.  It is insignificant enough to most commonly be silent and suppressed, but it has the annoying habit of altering my consonant pronunciation and taking away the warmth from my tone of voice.  As a result Adam came out A-ar, and minute sounded more like the kind of cookie I’m about to eat: mint.  This brings a vague recollection about consonant shift referred to but not explained (in the way of an insider that assumes you would know) in articles I have read about etymology and the devolution of language. 

 

This I’m doing here, it isn’t life.  It may be existence, this tedious survivatl – ok, so that was a typo, but it is so romantically Aztec that I’m leaving it as a tribute.  Anyway, existence is “I think therefore I am,” the soulless I am.  It’s ok when God says it, because He is Trinity, and I am is plural.  For a human I am is not enough.  I am satisfied only by saying we are.  In fact this day has so far been broken by two instances of we are: when two young friends came to visit me while their mother picked up glasses – one can have the sincerest conversations with children; and the other was when the very friend about whom I was writing in my other post, the one about literature, came by with her two little girls.  One is a genius who shared her flower by allowing me to smell it and by proclaiming it most accurately to be both pink and green; the other was asleep, but quite beautiful, just as was her mother, happily dressed in a maternity jumper with her hair all pulled up just like the joyful smile she is in my life.  How can hairstyles be smiles?  They just are. 

 

Mine, by the way, is the result of getting up late this morning and loosing the braid I remember deciding to put in my hair last night, though I am unaware whence I stole the minutes in which to plait it.  There is a large clip for emergencies fastened at present to my purse strap.  At the end of my day, if I am tired of brushing the strands aside, I fiercely affix the jaw that is remarkably able to contain the entire girth of my ponytail. 

 

Have you ever figured out under which circumstances you are supposed to use “that,” and which “which”?  Microsoft Word is always objecting, and I’ve learned that if I have a comma, which is acceptable, but I can’t fathom why that would be.  I do know that which is much more necessary when prepositions are used properly, and kept from ends of sentences. 

 

Existence is a victory; “I am” is worth saying.  Thinking is worth doing if the philosopher is correct in that it proves our am-ness.  There is no meaning, no life abundant, alone.  This is what I tell graduates as the primary lesson I wish people had told me before the first five years after high school.  Don’t abandon your friendships; they’re more important than grades, money, or degrees. 

 

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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Simon says?  Exercises?  Arrests?  Hide and go seek?  Illegal hands to the face? 

 

My hands have spent a lot of time on my head lately.  Life is too big for me sometimes.  Like this week.  At my church I’ve been teaching a women’s Sunday morning Bible study on Ephesians.  Have you ever looked at a hill from a distance and thought you could get to the top in an hour or two, only to discover when you get closer that the hill is a mountain with no scalable paths?  And for a breathless, unmeasurable time, you think you’ll never make it; you wonder why you tried.  At the last possible moment, wings come in, sweeping you up like the eagles to hobbits on Mount Doom.  God’s grace comes beneath your weakness, and through no fault of your own, you’re at the top, taking down your hands from your face to enjoy the view. 

I watched a movie the other night.  It wasn’t a really good movie.  The cinematography was unique, and the acting was superb.  Anthony Hopkins, playing a familiarly dramatic role, was suppressing his emotions, and trying to hide them.  He kept holding his face in front of his eyes as if shielding them from a light, when really he was shielding tears from sight.  Even when there aren’t people to see me, I keep putting my hand over my eyes.  Actually, at twenty-three, it’s hard to cry anymore, so the gesture is an act of the will to indicate emotion I can’t express any other way.  But the emotions, even at my age, must be expressed. 

A friend and I are starting a small group for high school girls, and quite frankly, I don’t know where to start in connecting with them.  Emma describes Robert Martin to her friend Harriet (in the Gwyneth Paltrow adaptation) as a man as much above her notice as below it.  Is evangelism and discipleship like that?  Either people know they need discipleship and God’s grace because they’re that mature or because they’re that empty? And I’m looking at some of these girls seeing so much need, but they’re not quite broken enough yet to value it, and I don’t know how to start a conversation or to whet an appetite for a close relationship with God.  I guess it’s all up to Him. 

Psalm 32 contains God’s promise to guide me with His eyes.  So maybe putting my palms over my eyes is a way of getting me to follow Him, recognizing my own lack of wisdom.  Too bad God has to force me into faith. 

Then recently every time I try to get on the internet (check my library due dates, blog, check messages, look up movie times) I have to refresh a hundred times, and it still doesn’t work.  I’m so inefficient, and end up doing a fraction of the things I’d intended with a day.  That’s a cause of frustrated grasping of my head. 

Maybe excitement could explain the frequent movement, too.  This week quite unexpectedly I made my first sale on my business website: www.LadyofLongbourn.com  Another exciting find was a website about Hebrew alphabets and words that argues for a Hebrew – or Edenic (long story) – etymology for most words worldwide. True or not my mind has been spinning with possibilities, and I’m finding it incredibly easy to learn new Hebrew words.  But then I always have. 

On Monday I got a bargain at the thrift store, and spent less than $3 on a brand new CD of classic hymns sung by the amazing St. Olaf’s Choir.  St. Olaf is a Lutheran Bible College whose incredible music department was featured on TV this Christmas season.  My brother and I stayed up irrationally (but not atypically) late watching it one night.  The beauty – the gift of it so touched me that I put my hands to my head. 

Dad and I went to the Colorado Republican caucus on Tuesday, which was an experience in disorganization and disbelief you wouldn’t, uh, believe!  Do you know the actual rules stated that ties in our precinct should be decided by a coin toss?  No one had any idea what they were doing, and since I couldn’t help us out, I put my hands on my head. 

Sunday I sat on the floor in my sanctuary, which was an exciting change.  You’ve no idea how many times I wanted to sit on the floor instead of formal, uncomfortable, modern chairs.  Mary of Bethany sat at Jesus’ feet, and that is quite my preference.  I probably won’t do it all the time; I fought against feeling self-conscious.  But it was neat to experience freedom in that way. 

The Superbowl…  Ok, to stop all scorn in its tracks, I babysat for a neighborhood outreach party put on by a church plant in Denver, and then hung out with everyone for the last quarter, so it isn’t like I was idolizing football or anything.  The Superbowl was a nail-biter, quite exciting.  I couldn’t believe some of the plays I witnessed.  Nice escape, interesting throw, and impossible catch for essential first down.  Yep.  I even know what I’m talking about.  Hands over my eyes. 

Monday was a rambling day, much like this post.  How beautiful to spend unhurried time at the library, wandering around, thinking, scurrying back and forth from the movie shelves to the computers (which work!) there, as an idea of another movie to watch came to mind…  And then on Wednesday I got to go to tea with a new friend.  Tea, yes.  I had mint chai, which is just as good as the other varieties I’ve had.  With enough sugar almost any tea tastes good, I think.  I just needed to get tea done the British way, with milk, too. 

I’ve been doing much praying for a special person, name to be announced sometime after I learn it myself.  My expectations for him are so high that it’s only right I support him now, already, in prayer.  But then I miss him.  And I cover my face shutting out the vastness of the world that separates him from me – but, of course, all in God’s capable and good hands.  Um.  That was code.  It all means that I wonder where my husband is, and when he’ll come, and want him to be here sooner than later, but I have no idea who or where He is.  But God knows, and I trust God. 

This week I spoke with a few friends about honesty, and how we wish the world would let us say the truth, say what’s on our hearts without code or offense.  At least with them I’ll practice it.  I hope they will with me.  No mask here.  Which reminds me – I’ve watched several movies with masks or masquerades in them recently.  Lots of movies. 

But movies always make me think.  A movie I want to see as of today is Penelope, due to limited release on February 29.  The fantasy, fairy-tale-ish story has a message of honesty, of taking the hands from the face and being yourself for all the world to see and know – even risking the hurt. 

YLCF was a special blessing this evening, since the most recent post specifically addressed the topic of waiting for one’s handsome prince, and what to do while you wait.  I know those things.  I certainly rebel on occasion.  The reminder was important to get me refocused, to seek the most excellent and most fulfilling. 

I’m craving tea: my mom’s blackberry, which I never like.  The clock, at almost midnight after a long day, declines my craving.  In fact I even have to stop my ramble through writing.  This post is the way I used to write emails to my friends: late at night, a summary of a dozen thoughts and events that come together to form a sort of three-strand theme.  If my brother were writing, this would be a strongly metaphorical poem (trying to make sense of which would bring my hands once again to my head).  My other brother would tell a wonderful allegory.  I’m trying to get the latter to guest blog here sometime.  He has a great story about orange juice… 

Ramble away in the comments.  Feel free to put the unconcise, irrelevant, unfinished thoughts you can’t submit as an English paper, or publish on your blog, or tell your friends when they ask how you are doing.  Good night. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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One wonderful thing about celebrating Christmas it that it connects us to the past. Not only are we celebrating an event that happened 2000 years ago; we are also joining all the people in 2000 years of history who celebrated Jesus’ birth. That we do the same thing every year, generation after generation, preserves words and traditions and thoughts and art that would otherwise have been lost. Can you think of any other contemporary music that becomes timeless so universally?

Words we use at Christmas tend, then, to be relics from the past, captivatingly delivered to the present still speaking of the foreign mystery of the time whence they come. Today I’m going to talk about two of those words. The first is holiday.

There has been much controversy the last few years concerning those who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Some stores forbid the mention of Christmas, because it was too religious. Christians object to the minute supply of cards that mention Christmas. “Season’s Greetings,” “Peace on Earth,” and “Happy Holidays,” are not the most expressive phrases. While I love to say “Merry Christmas,” and don’t think it should be forbidden, I appreciate – and sometimes use – “Happy Holidays” as well.

Holiday is a compound word. It comes from “holy” and “day.” If that is not the point of celebrating, I don’t know what is. The word holy is an old word meaning “that must be preserved whole or intact, that cannot be transgressed or violated.” A synonym is sacred. Keeping the day intact with its meaning, unviolated by the secular world, is what I’m all about. It is a day to worship my holy Savior, in a holy way.

My second word is Carol. At Christmas the songs everyone knows are carols. This word is from Greek originally, and refers to a song that is danced to. Originally the word implied that the tune was played by a flute, and the dance performed in a circular formation. Random House suggests that the etymology might also include a word for garlands worn in the hair. There is some suggestion that it is related to chara, the Greek word for joy. Related words may include: chorus, choir, carrel (meaning “cubicle” or enclosed place for study), coronation, charisma. For more information: http://www.baronyofvatavia.org/articles/medcul/carols112001as36.php

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=carol

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/carol

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Actually, it’s old, so old that we hardly use it.  Tolkien used it because it was old and English.  When I write about the Church so much, and am trying to emphasize original meaning instead of what the word has come to mean in our culture (I despise redefinitioning), I resort to long explanations each time I describe what happens when the people of God get together.  One can use Greek, ekklesia, or start by defining the English word, church (which has so many uses now that it is about as ineffective as love), or say assembly, meeting, gathering, or fellowshipAssembly reminds people either of six grades of public school children seated in the cafeteria, or when speaking of religion, the semi-charismatic Assembly of God denomination.    Meeting was actually used in its common sense (I have a meeting to attend) by nonconformist religious groups, and continues to be used by the Quakers.  Gathering tells you nothing about what is going on.  And fellowship indicates that people are getting together for chit-chat.  See how inadequate these words are to express the potent prescription described in the New Testament for the followers of Jesus when two or more were together. 

The first occurrence of “church” in the Bible is Matthew 16:18, where Jesus promises that on the truth Peter confessed 2 verses prior, the Church would be built, and even the gates of hell would not prevail against it.  The context is, like much of Matthew, very kingdom-focused.  As usual, the disciples were hearing Jesus to speak of an earthly kingdom.  No doubt they had in mind governments (like that described in detail in 1 Chronicles), armies, governors, judges, and councils.  The word ekklesia (translated church) was the word for the political assemblies at which the citizens would deliberate.  We might think of parliament or legislatures, or even a townhall meeting.  It could refer to any gathering of people, and was applied to religious gatherings.  Matthew 18:17, in the passage used for church discipline, Jesus indicates the church is a judicial body.  Paul goes along with this in 1 Corinthians (a great textbook on church structure, life, and leadership), when he suggests that rather than bringing “brothers” to court, they should submit to the judgment of the Church. 

All this to set up my new synonym for church, a word so out of fashion that it is very unlikely you will think of it meaning anything else.  The word is moot.  You have heard it, but you didn’t know what it meant.  It was used colloquially in the phrase “moot point,” or “moot case.”  The common use is a perversion of the original use.  A moot was a deliberative gathering, often for discussing hypothetical cases (this is the sense in which the word does not apply to church).  If something was hypothetical, it was debatable, in that there was no final word to be said on the matter.  But a culture that does not appreciate the hypothetical has transferred the phrase “moot point” to mean not worth discussing. 

JRR Tolkien used moot in his chapter on the Ents.  Their gathering was called a moot.  In this case, he blended two meanings: the newer one applied to deliberation, and the etymological one in which the word simply meant assembly.  The Online Etymology Dictionary defines moot as “a meeting, especially of freemen to discuss community affairs or mete justice.”  Its root is in a word for “encounter.” 

So a church, which is a gathering of disciples to manage the affairs of their community, to build each other up in unity and provide accountability towards godliness, could be described as a moot.  That’s just what I’m going to do. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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