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.
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.
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.)
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.