Those Gossipy Godparents!

Word Study Lounge

Welcome to my study lounge. Take a seat in an overstuffed worn leather chair, put your feet up on the coffee stained table in front of you (kicking your shoes off is optional), and join in our study group on words. Brownies are on the counter, right next to the coffee and tea. Lap blankets are available on request.

I like words. One thing that I really like about words is discovering where they came from. Etymology may not be my passion, but I have a strong taste for it. It’s fun sometimes to take a guess at a word’s origin and then research it to see if I was close. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I’m way off. Sometimes I just make up word connections for the fun of it.

Gossipy Godparents

Jonalyn Fincher’s gossip post over at Ruby Slippers got me thinking about this today. Thanks to a comment from Jim, I learned that gossip and godparent are related words. It turns out that gossip comes from two earlier words, God and sib. Sib originally meant relative and we get sibling (meaning young relative) from it today. So years ago the people who took on the role of godparent were godsibs, which formed after a while into gossips. In some parts of England this is still the dialectical word for godparents. “Hey, going on a trip?” “Yeah, gonna spend the weekend with my gossips.”

Putting a Coat of Wax on False Etymologies

Sometimes people can use these word origins to help us understand spiritual matters. Like you’ll be hearing a sermon and they tell you, “In Isaiah 7:14, the original Hebrew word ‘Immanuel’ means ‘God with us.'” Of course it doesn’t take a PhD in linguistics to figure that out since Matthew already did the heavy lifting for us on that one, but you get what I mean.

Folks can get carried away with this. I once heard a sermon where the concept of sincerity came up, probably from a passage like 2 Timothy 1:5 (“I am reminded of your sincere faith”) or something similar. The speaker said that sincere came from the Latin sin meaning “without” and cere meaning “wax”. Those connections line right up with my knowledge of Spanish and I figured the connection back to Latin must be easy to trace. The speaker then went on to explain that people used the Latin back in New Testament times to refer to clay pots: if a pot was cracked it could be patched up with wax and sold in the market with no one the wiser until they took it home and found it leaked and wouldn’t hold water. Supposedly, shoppers wised up and started asking if the pots on sale were without wax, that is, were they sincere. The point, the speaker said, was that our faith should be sincere, our faith should hold water. I bought it. I loved it. I wanted to use it in a lesson of my own as soon as possible

I shouldn’t have bought it. First, who cares what the origin of the English word sincere is when getting at the meaning of the Bible’s original text? The Bible wasn’t written in English. But I didn’t bother to think of that then. Happily I did bother to look it up before using it myself.

Sincere is from Latin, that’s true. But the Latin sin in this case is from an earlier Latin prefix sem which means “one”. Cere is the root of the Latin crescere which means “to grow”. Sincere doesn’t mean “without wax”; it means “from a single growth”, i.e., not duplicitous or mixed up*.

Aren’t you glad you joined this study group? It pays to look things up sometimes.

True Words

I was wrong up above. I don’t just like words. I love words. One thing I really love about words is that they are a gift from God because God the Son is the Word himself and all real expression – expression that reflects the eternal significance of reality – comes through him. (John 1.)

And I love words because that’s how God delivers his message to us today, the message of good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 1:8-10.) Most of all, I love that God’s word itself is true, just as Jesus is the one true Word:

For the word of the Lord is right and true. (Psalm 33:4.)

and,

All your words are true. (Psalm 119:160.)

That’s why I love words.

***

*Where that speaker ever got the story about the clay pots is beyond me.

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16 Responses to Those Gossipy Godparents!

  1. Mary Anne says:

    Re: the (incorrect) story about clay pots—could “crackpot” have something to do with that? 😉

    MA

  2. I’d like a lap blanket and a brownie, thank you.

    Occasionally, my WEM friends and I refer to each other as “gossips”. We read The Scarlet Letter this past year. Here’s a quote from chapter two, “The Market-Place”:

    “Goodwives,” said a hard-featured dame of fifty, “I’ll tell ye a piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof, if we women, being of mature age and church-members in good repute, should have the handling of such malefactresses as this Hester Prynne. What think ye gossips?”

    My note says “gossip” means “friends” and that it’s a term which usually refers to women, but what you brought out about the etymology of the word adds another meaningful layer.
    How exciting! I’m going to send my gossips over here for this. (You might want to put on another batch of brownies and perk some more coffee.)*

    *The contents of this comment are 100% wax-free.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for the connection to Hester Prynne’s plight, Adriana. The usage there is in line with the old time practice of gossiping, in that it was a way to set and enforce community standards rather than a means of making mischief. Yay for Hawthorne for giving us something more to talk about!

  3. p.s. I’m using Facebook to track everybody down. (hee hee hee…)

  4. Jeannie says:

    I googled the “without wax” thing and it seems it’s an urban myth that’s been around forever (Wikipedia even has an entry about it). Funny how these things take on lives of their own.
    The part about “gossips” is very interesting. Now we say “my posse” or “my peeps” — well, I don’t, but the youngsters apparently do. Or did, but stopped doing so when older people started saying it….

  5. All of these word meanings are confusing me like crazy.

    • Tim says:

      I know, it’s enough to make your head spin! Still, I like hearing from preachers when they give the original meaning of a Greek or Hebrew word and it just opens up the Scripture in a whole new way.

  6. Aimee Byrd says:

    I’ve heard the same clay pot story as well. Thanks for the lesson, I love learning this stuff. (Stuff, now that’s a sophisticated word!)

    • Tim says:

      I use the word “stuff” all the time, as you’ve probably noticed. It makes me sound not only sophisticated but erudite too. Now I have to go look up the word “erudite”.

  7. Love this discussion, as words and etymology fascinates me (as you know, since I wrote two books about bible words.) great topic.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Keri. I’m frankly really pumped that someone with your understanding and experience with word studies thinks this post came across well!

  8. KSP says:

    I love words, so I love this post! I often tell my students that entire worldviews can be found in the etymology of a word. Take “hysteria” (from the root for “uterus”). Or “science” (from the Latin word for knowledge–as if there were only one way to know ….). Great post!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Professor. I love how the medical community used to say that no man could suffer from hysteria because it was, by definition, solely a woman’s disease since men did not have uteruses. What a hoot! Just goes to show that doctors don’t always know everything. Then again, neither do I!

      And on the root for “science”, we use the related word “scienter” in the law when referring to what a person’s knowledge was at a given time. Knowledge is powerful stuff!

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