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A friend recently asked me what are my family’s traditions for Christmas.  Besides a formal meal, we also purchase and decorate a Christmas tree, the latter usually to the backdrop of nostalgic Christmas songs and candlelight.  But the most familiar tradition, even an oft-lamented one in our materialism-saturated society, is the exchanging of gifts.  But I am convinced there is nothing inherently wicked with either the getting or the giving of presents.

Gift and give are newer forms of a presumed old, old root, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *ghabh- meaning “to give or receive”.  Before it reached English, it appeared in the Old Norse with a definition “gift, good luck”.  For a while it was pronounced yiven, before the guttural ‘g’ resurfaced.  An initial ‘h’ sound is also associated with the root, developing into the somewhat opposite word have.  Isn’t it interesting that giving and receiving are so closely linked that they’re all mixed up with the same family of words?

Present specifically carries the notion of something offered, freely, but before it is received.  It is set in the presence of one, placed “before their face”.

The word receive has a more Latin than Germanic heritage, entering English c. 1300, about 200 years after the Norman French conquest of England, from the Old North French, meaning at that time “seize, take hold of, accept”.  I like the emphasis on the fact that a gift cannot simply be thrust on someone; the action is interactive, with the receiver willingly taking the gift.  In earlier forms, found in Latin, the word meant “regain, take back, recover, take in, or admit”.  There’s a sense of vengeance contrasted with the sense of hospitality.

Hospitality is, in Greek, xenia, especially referring to the “rights of a guest or stranger”.  There is a city in Ohio named for this word.  I think that is a lovely motto of which to be reminded every time one’s city is mentioned.  It is not so much seen in our country as in many other nations, including the Israelite tribe whose generosity to the poor and stranger in the land was mandated by the Mosaic Law (see also this passage).

Hospitality is also a French/Latin borrowing, also since the 1300’s.  It comes from a word meaning “friendliness to guests”.  Compare this to the word host, whose entry at Etymonline.com goes further than the longer form hospitalityHost goes back to the PIE *ghostis- which is supposed to have referred to both the host and the guest, with an original sense of referring to strangers, on whichever side.

In the 1993 movie, “Shadowlands”, based on the life of C.S. Lewis, there is a scene about Christmas in which he is discussing the fate of the season in their mid-century culture:

One [Inkling] laments, “I’m afraid Christmas, as I remember it, is rather a lost cause.”

Jack, as his friends call him, and sounding rather like his voice is echoing out of far-away winter-bound Narnia whispers, “It’s because we’ve lost the magic… You tell people it’s about taking care of the poor and needy, and naturally they don’t even miss it.”

To which his friend, a Roman Catholic priest, responds, “The needy do come into it: ‘no room at the inn,’ remember?  The mother and child?”

I do like to remember that.  I like that older songs remember that.  I like that my friend this year asked for suggestions of how to make our holiday reflect the truth of this verse, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” She wanted to know how to celebrate being made rich and to imitate Christ’s poverty-bearing, rich-making love.

There is a tradition of being charitable particularly at Christmas.  (This is in the line of other, biblical feast-days, during which kindness to the poor was encouraged in response to God’s blessings of abundance that were being celebrated, especially in the harvest-feasts of Firstfruits and Tabernacles.  It is a way to recognize that it is God’s undeserved blessing that provides enough to survive or feast.  If we, by pleasing Him, do not relinquish His grace, we are to expect His continued blessings.  And He is pleased when we remember the poor and have charity towards them.  We can give like the saints in Philippi, depleting our own storehouses, knowing that the God who is using us to care for the poor will faithfully provide for us as well.)

This responsibility to the poor is communicated by the history of the word generous, which originally meant “of noble birth” (same root as genus, referring to biological descent and classification into kinds or races or families) and only by implications of the duty, of those blessed with more, to share with those who have less did it come to mean “magnanimous”.

Benevolence, “disposition to do good”, is a compound word, from the Latin bene “well” and volantem “to wish”.

Alms is another term for this benevolence.   In Old English it was ælmesse, occurring also in German, and Latin, where it is spelled eleemosyna.  This was, in turn, borrowed from the Greek eleemosyne, referring to “pity, mercy”.  In modern English, though rare, it means a gift, especially of money or food, given out to the needy.

Charity is from the Old French, “charity, mercy, compassion; alms” from Latin, “costliness, esteem, affection”.  Isn’t it instructive, the impulse of expressing love by costly, sacrificial giving?  It can be satisfying, and blessed, to give.

Love is, by own definition, the giving of a treasure.  Treasure comes from the same Greek root as thesaurus, and it means “hoard, storehouse, treasury” – presumably of something worth enough to be collected and kept safe.  Can stores be shared?  What does it say when one is willing to disperse a hoard?

Donation is attested in Latin, donum, “gift”, from the PIE *donum.  The same word is found in Sanskrit: danam “offering, present” and in Old Irish dan, “gift, endowment, talent”.

In my family’s tradition, the focus is more on expressing love to one another than to those less fortunate.  Our gifts are an exchange, late 1300’s, “act of reciprocal giving and receiving”, from the Latin ex- “out” and cambire “barter”.  Cambire is supposed to be of Celtic origin, the PIE *kemb- “to bend”, developing in the sense of altering the current state, then specifically changing something by putting something else in its place.

At Christmas especially, the packages under the tree are almost always wrapped, so as to be a surprise.  Unexpectedly, this word used to mean only “a taking unawares; unexpected attack or capture”.  The roots are sur- “over” and prendre “to take, grasp, seize”.  It might be ironic that though we think of thinly cloaked gifts as surprises, at Christmas they are not always unforeseen or unexpected; who hasn’t made a Christmas wish list?  In fact, it is perhaps a disadvantage of our custom: that gifts come to be expected, or even demanded, by the recipients.

When the word wrap appeared in English around AD 1300, it meant “to wind, cover, conceal, bind up, swaddle”.  I think we do this to increase the ornamental feeling of festivity, not as a symbol of the baby Jesus being similarly wrapped before being placed in a manger.

Swaddle seems to come from a word meaning a slice or strip.

Ribbon, which often adorns our gifts, might have a similar historic meaning, if it is related to band, “a flat strip” and “something that binds”, a rejoining of two divergent threads of Middle English, distinguished at one point by different spellings, band referring to joining together and bande to a strip or even a stripe (where it likely morphed into ribane, a stripe in a material).  The original root of band is, PIE *bendh- “to bind”.

Something else we use to hold things together when we’re wrapping them?  Tape.  My cousin says, “tape, lots of tape.”  This Old English tæppe is a “narrow strip of cloth used for tying or measuring”.  It could be formed from the Latin for “cloth, carpet”, tapete, or it might be related to the Middle Low German tapen, “to pull, pluck, tear”.

(These words are so fun, the way they communicate the action by which the thing got to be – or the state that inspired and enabled an action.  What was life like for the people who named a strip of fabric tape?  Well, maybe they were pulling on cloth {reminiscent of one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Little Women”, where the ladies of the house spend time tearing old sheets into strips to be used as bandages for those soldiers wounded in the American Civil War}.  Why would they do that?  To have something with which to bind things together.  It’s a different world from our manufacturing-driven lifestyles, where tape and ribbon and string are purchased in packages off of shelves.  They’re things made originally for their purposes, not improvised from something else.  It’s like a history lesson in a word!)

The other reason we think of gifts during the holiday season in which we remember God’s entry into our world in human flesh is because His birth was honored by gifts from wise visitors from the East.  These men recognized that Jesus was born to be the King, the long-prophesied King of the everlasting kingdom.  And though this God-King could have turned stones into bread, and summoned armies of angels, He chose to experience poverty.  Though He experienced the lowliness of being born to a poor mother and living as a refugee, a stranger, in Egypt, he was honored by costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh when a very young boy.

Such is the nature not only of love, to give sacrificially, but also of worship.  How remiss would any of us be, to overlook the presence of the Highest King?  Not only is His worth expressed by Kings giving Him treasures; it is demonstrated by the “sacrifice of praise” every person can offer:  The Christmas carols sing that the wise men have “come to pay Him homage,” Old French “allegiance or respect for one’s feudal lord”, from Latin homo, “man”.  Or in “What Child Is This?” we are bid to “haste, haste, to bring Him laud”, also Old French, “praise, extol” from Latin laus, “praise, fame, glory”.  A cognate, or brother-word in Old English was leoð, “song, poem, hymn”.  He is worthy of the richest treasures.  We owe Him everything we have, everything that is.  We also owe Him our allegiance, our praise, our songs.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Many thanks and credit to the resources of www.Etymonline.com and www.Dictionary.Reference.com in compiling these definitions and histories.  Also to www.BlueLetterBible.org for Scriptures.

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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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Sets of four?  Sounds like rummy!  I love being asked questions.  For one thing, answers are so much easier then. 

1. 4 movies you can always watch: Wives and Daughters, While You Were Sleeping, Two Towers, Pride and Prejudice with Kam Heskin (no, I’m not Mormon)

2. 4 bands you can never get enough of: Bands aren’t my think, but oh, I like Boyz In the Sink  After that we’ll have to do singers: Michael Card, Steve Green, (stealing one from Woven and Spun) Beauty and the Beast Soundtrack

3. 4 towns you lived in: Blue Springs, MO; Aurora, CO; Farmer’s Branch, TX; Garland, TX

4. 4 shows you like to watch: Pushing Daisies, Leave it to Beaver, Numbers, Joan of Arcadia
5. 4 websites you visit daily: WordPress, Biblical Womanhood Blog, Amy’s Humble Musings, Elect Exiles

6. 4 favorite foods: chocolate, pizza, hamburgers, strawberries
7. 4 places you’d like to be now: Chicago, Scotland, the mall, Israel
8. 4 songs that really move you: Christmas Shoes, Held, We Will Dance, Beauty and the Beast

9. 4 books you will always love:The Walk by Michael Card, Lord of the Rings, Passion and Purity, That Hideous Strength
10. 4 colors that will always be in your closet: navy blue, white, black, green

11.4 authors you’ll always love: Jane Austen, Elisabeth Elliot, Michael Card, Dr. Henry Morris
12. 4 favorite actors/actresses whose talent you honestly respect: Gerard Butler, Cary Grant, Sandra Bullock, Bill Paterson
13.4 languages you’d love to be fluent in: Hebrew, Old English, German, French
14.4 other countries you would like to live in: Scotland, Israel, New Zealand, Ecuador
15.4 skills you would like to improve: sewing, teaching, writing, cooking

16.4 items that are “a few of your favorite things”: white curtains, soft throws, my trifle dish, fog

17. 4 items you actually use like they’re your favorites: laptop, car, tiny hair clips, denim skirt

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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