Word Wednesday – Pericope

Word of the Day | Definition, Word Origins, and Quotes at Dictionary.com.

Bible reading-1For our “Word Wednesday” feature today we are simply going to point you to Dictionary.com’s “Word of the Day“, since it is a fine one, with ties to books and reading, and specifically, to the reading of Scripture.

The word is “pericope” (not to be confused with periscope, which involves an instrument to help you look all around)!) – sadly, not even listed in my desk dictionary (Webster’s New World – College Edition, 1964)!

The origin is in a great Greek word (actually, two of them): peri (around) and koptein (to cut), which is how it gets these meanings:

1. a selection or extract from a book.
2. a portion of sacred writing read in a divine service; lesson; lection.

So if you are reading in a good book, and you highlight a great quote, or write down a sentence or paragraph that you want to keep, you have made a “pericope.” You have “cut around” some words and pulled out a selection for a special purpose.

Or if you are having devotions, and you decide to read only a portion of a certain chapter, as we have been doing as we read together through the gospel of Luke at the dinner table, you are reading a “pericope”.

Read any good pericopes lately? Have you saved them? And if they are from God’s Word, are you hiding them in your heart?

Wednesday Word of the Week: “Automatic”

Family Word Finder -RDTurning to the Reader’s Digest Family Word Finder (New York: Reader’s Digest, 1975) for our “Word Wednesday” feature today, I picked out another familiar word which has good Greek roots – the word “automatic” (and a few related ones!). Turns out that what seems to be quite ordinary is really quite interesting. Here is the entry for this word:

automatic adj. 1 “Use an automatic dishwasher’: self-operating, self-acting, self-moving, self-propelling, electric, mechanical, push-button, automated. 2 ‘Breathing and blinking are automatic reactions’: occuring independently, involuntary, reflex, instinctive, unconscious, spontaneous, nonvolitional, uncontrolled, unwilled, inherent; mechanical, routine, habitual.

ant. 1 manual. 2 voluntary, conscious, intentional, controlled, deliberate.

Exploring the Word: Greek ‘autos’ means ‘self’ and gives us many words including: ‘autobiography’, writing about one’s own life; ‘autocrat’, one who rules by himself, an absolute ruler; ‘autograph’, literally to write one’s own name; ‘automatic’, self-acting; ‘automobile’, a self-moving vehicle; ‘autonomy’, self-rule, self-governing; and even ‘autopsy’, literally a seeing for oneself, a doctor’s seeing for himself the cause of a death by a postmortem examination of a body. (Our word ‘automation’ is a modern blend of ‘autom’ [atic] + [oper]’a-tion’.) p.70

Clearly, there are many good things and activities that should come automatically in our lives. But as Reformed Christians, we should make sure that our daily dependence on the Lord and our thankful lives of service to Him are never automatic according to the above definition. Rather let them be strictly voluntary, conscious and controlled – through the Spirit of our risen Savior!

Word Wednesday: “Ordeal”

UnfortunateEnglishFor our word feature this Wednesday we return to the great little word book Unfortunate English: The Gloomy Truth Behind the Words You Use by Bill Brohaugh (Writer’s Digest Books, 2006). Taking our final selection from the second main part of the book – “It Pains Me to Say: Words of Assault, Torture, Bloodletting, and Death” – we choose the word “ordeal” today. This word too has an interesting history, including a tie to the justice of God, as you will see. Here’s the entry under this word:

No one wants to suffer through an ordeal. The taxing experiences we call ordeals try your patience, your durability, your ability to cope.

They once tried, in a legal sense, your criminal guilt or innocence.

And guilty or innocent, you would literally suffer through a literal ordeal.

If your wounds didn’t fester after carrying a red-hot bar nine paces, you were innocent. Lucky you.

If you could retrieve a stone immersed in boiling water and didn’t develop blisters, you were innocent. Lucky you.

If you managed to walk an obstacle course of nine red-hot plowshares without incurring injury, you were innocent. And, small detail: You had to do it blindfolded.

If you didn’t drown after being thrown into a pool of water with a millstone tied around your neck, you were innocent.

These and other variations of ordeal (as in the phrase ‘trial by ordeal’) lasted until the 1200s and were based on a concept called judicia Dei. If God protected you, allowing you to survive or remain scathed only to a certain degree, God was issuing His judgment of innocence. The weakened and nonlegal sense of ordeal had arrived by the mid-1600s.

Makes your daily ordeals a little less trying, doesn’t it? (pp.60-61)

Word Wednesday: “Vegetable” and Its Kinds

vegetablesWhile browsing through the Reader’s Digest Family Word Finder (c1975) last evening looking for a word to choose for my “Word Wednesday” feature (always a treat!), I came across the very common word “vegetable” and its related word “vegetation”. In between the listing for these words in this book was an “Exploring the Word” box that contained fascinating information on the origin of all kinds of vegetables, and that did it for me! So, in the spirit of Spring/summer gardening and the season of fresh “veggies”, I present to you the word “vegetables”! And “asparagus”, “cabbage”, “cauliflower”, “lettuce” – well, you get the point 🙂 Expand your etymology and enjoy!

Exploring the Word: ‘Vegetable” comes from Latin ‘vegere’, to be lively, full of life, not because the Romans knew they were full of vitamins but because vegetables grew so vigorously. The names of specific vegetables are also interesting: ‘asparagus’ comes from Greek ‘aspharagos’, shoot, sprout; ‘cabbage’ is from French ‘caboche’, head, which goes back to Latin ‘caput’ head, from which we also get ‘captain’, ‘capital’, and ‘decapitate’; ‘cauliflower’ comes from New Latin ‘cauliflora’, flowering cabbage; ‘lettuce’ is from Latin ‘lactus’, milk, because of its milky juice (the same Latin word gives us ‘lactation’); while ‘onion’ is from Latin ‘unio’, oneness, unity, union, and (in jewelers’ language) ‘large pearl.’ Country people in Roman times also used the word in the sense of ‘onion.’ ‘Parsley’ comes from Greek ‘petroselinon’, rock parsley (Greek ‘petra’, rock + ‘selinon’, parsley), perhaps because it grew along the rocky banks of a river; and ‘parsnip’ is from Latin ‘pastinaca’, carrot + Old English ‘nap’, turnip, hence literally is a ‘turnip carrot.’ ‘Potato’ comes to us via Spanish from the Arawakan (a West Indies language) ‘batata’, a sweet potato; ‘tomato’ also comes to us via Spanish, from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word for it, ‘tomatl’; while ‘spinach’ comes to us via also via Spanish from Arabic ‘isfinaj’. Thus, the Spanish conquest of Latin America and the Caribbean isalnds brought us ‘potato’ and ‘tomato’, while the Moors introduced ‘spinach’ into Spain, whence it spread throughout Europe (p.855).

Word Wednesday: “Plagiarism”

UnfortunateEnglishOur “word of the week ” feature for this Wednesday is a great word for readers – and more so for writers. In his book Unfortunate English: The Gloomy Truth Behind the Words You Use (Writer’s Digest Books, 2006) Bill Brohaugh has a listing for “plagiargism” in his section “Rhymes with ‘Dead’: Caught Read-Handed, Words of Crime and Punishment”. Here is the fascinating origin and use of this word in time past and into the present:

What writers don’t regard their words as their children – precious, irreplacable? And plagiarism is the kidnapping of their children. And I don’t mean the words. I mean the little tykes, flesh-and-blood sons and daughters.

The root of plagiarism goes back to Latin plagiarus, the kidnapping of children and others to be sold into slavery. The word had added the figurative sense of literary theft by the early years A.D.; the poet Martial used it as such. (Plagiarus rose from plagium, the capture of game, which is perhaps also unfortunately applicable. Many of the authors who regard their words as their children should take a harder look – they’d see that their words are actually gamey beasts.) Plagiarus came to English in the early 1600s as plagiary, ‘one who plagiarizes,’ with both literal kidnapping and figurative wordnapping meanings. Tack on an English -ism, and you have plagiarism.

And you can mark my words. Then steal them. The beasts! (p.59)

Word Wednesday: “Busy” – the Virtuous and the Vile

WordinYourEarToday our “Word Wednesday” feature is taken from the second part of the book A Word in Your Ear and Just Another Word by Ivor Brown (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1945). The word I’ve chosen is “busy”, in part because I didn’t realize just how “busy” this word is. Without further ado, we give you Brown’s entry under this intriguing little word.

Busy is an Old English word which has come into a state of grace in our new English civilization. In making this ascent from disrepute it reflects man’s opinions about the nature of work. It is only since the Reformation that the idea of labour as a social obligation has afflicted mankind (In spite of Mr.Brown’s scorn, the Protestants did get it right. -cjt). Previously toil was the curse of Adam, not his duty or his opportunity. Wise gentry got slaves or serfs to work for them while they followed the wars, the arts, and the ladies. Then came this all-conquering notion of honourable toil, a Puritan conception, which has endured; nowadays to proclaim yourself above all claims of drudgery and a careless fleeter of the time is to be regarded with disfavour even by the lordly ones. Consequently to assert that one is busy is now to make a claim to virtuous living; but busy at one time was frequently used with an unkind suggestion of meddling and officiousness. It implied that only a fool, a knave, or a mischief-maker would busy himself. Oberon talks of the meddling monkey and the busy ape, while Emilia , in ‘Othello’, cries:

I will be hanged if some eternal villian
Some busy and insinuating rogue
Some cogging, cozening slave, to get some office,
Hath not devised this slander.

Again, Hamlet, having stabbed the eavesdropping Polonius and dismissed him as a ‘wretched, rash, intruding fool’, adds:

Thou find’st to be too busy is some danger.

Busy here obviously means over-busy by our standards. We preserve the usage in talking of a busy-body (Remember the KJV use of this in 1 Pet.4:15?!)

Henry Vaughan sang to

Dear Night, this world’s defect,
The stop to Busie Fools, Care’s check and curb.

Busy was a favorite word of John Donne.

…The hour of Judgment occurs for Donne ‘at the last busy day’. He obviously hated business. He saw no goodness in occupation. But the Puritans and the Business Men have altered all that. No longer does the busy ape or lecher set the meddlesome example. The busy bee has become our tutor in morality. Yet the old notion of busy lives still in the slang of thieves and criminals. For them a detective or a policeman is ‘a busy’. Raging against their enemy in the cell, they may in fact be echoing English poetry and cursing with the language of Shakespeare and of Donne (pp.29-30).

P.S. I have an idea my English Lit teacher-sister will appreciate this word 🙂

Have a great day – and keep building your vocabulary by reading!

Word Wednesday: A Few Things “Dutch”

AintmuchDutchToday for our “Word of the Week” feature we draw on the Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris, a fascinating book of “more than 3,000 colorful, interesting and little-known stories about the origins of everyday words and expressions, presented with wit and authority”. Strikingly, I discovered an entry that perked up my Dutch antennae – something about “Dutch courage, Dutch treat, in Dutch, etc.” And instead of being filled with pride at my Dutch heritage, I was provoked to Dutch anger and stubbornness. It seems the English and Dutch were not always so friendly, and the English made up a few expressions to convey their sentiments. Ready for a little history and word history involving the Dutch?

Here’s the entry:

Probably no nationality has come in for so consistent a torrent of verbal abuse from the English as their neighbors across the channel, the Dutch. Dutch courage – the kind of courage that comes out of a bottle – is surely an unflattering phrase. When you’re invited to a Dutch treat or a Dutch luncheon, the host expects each guest to pay his own way. Double Dutch is a kind of talk deliberately intended to deceive the listener. And to do the Dutch is to commit suicide.

In these few phrases – and there are dozens more – the English have implied that the Dutch are cowardly, niggardly and deceitful. Yet the rest of the world sees Holland and its people as a land of tulips, windmills, sunny-faced skaters and brave fellows tending the dikes (Thank you, now you are talking real Dutch! -cjt). Why should the British take such a contrary view?

It was not always thus. Until well after Shakespeare’s time, the Dutch were usually well regarded in all literary references by British authors. But during the seventeenth century the two nations became rivals in international commerce. For  awhile, at least, the Dutch colonial empire loomed as a real challenge to Britain’s (Read: the Dutch dominated the seas! – cjt). So the disrespectful references began. One of the earliest – a reference to Dutch courage – was penned by the poet Edmund Waller in 1665:

The Dutch their wine and all their brandy lose,
Disarmed of that from which their courage grows.

RealDutchToday, of course, Great Britain and the Netherlands have lived in peace and fellowship for many years. But the damage done by the derogatory phrases created in a time of wars and rivalry remains. To this day one hears of Dutch reckoning (guesswork), Dutch defense (retreat or surrender), and a pigheaded or stubborn man is one whose Dutch is up. It surely does beat the Dutch! (p.120)

Word Wednesday: “Classic, Classical” – and “Classis”!

Family Word Finder -RDToday let’s gather up our Wednesday word of the week from the Reader’s Digest Family Word Finder once again. And looking through it last evening I came across the two adjectives “classic” and “classical”, which are easy to confuse. So, let’s let our “word finder” help us keep them straight.

classic, classical adj.

1. ‘Carl Sandburg wrote a classic biography of Lincoln. Sneezing and a sore throat are classic symptoms of a cold’: definitive, authoritative, absolute, accepted, traditional, model, archetypal, prototypal, exemplary; excellent, outstanding, distinguished, distinguishing, first-class, first-rate, consummate, masterly, ageless, heroic, enduring, epic.

2. ‘Latin is a classical language. Caesar was a hero of classical antiquity’: ancient Greek or Roman; Greco-Roman.

3. -n. ‘Dicken’s “A  Tale of Two Cities” is a literary classic’: masterpiece, standard work; prototype, archetype, model, first-class example, paragon.

ant. 1. bad, poor, inferior, awful, terrible, lousy, second-rate; unrepresentative, atypical. 2.modern. 3. piece of junk, trash.

Usage note; Both ‘classic’ and ‘classical’ can be used to mean standard, typical, or the highest or memorable class: ‘a classic (or ‘classical’) case of measles’, The 1929 Packard is a classic (or classical) car. However, ‘classical’ is preferred when referring to the ancient Greeks and Romans or their literary ‘classics’: ‘The classical culture of Rome (of ancient Rome as opposed to modern Rome), a classical beauty (like that of ancient Greek or Roman statues).

Word origin: ‘Classic’ comes from Latin ‘classicus”, meaning first-class.’ The word first came to be applied to the standard Greek and Roman authors in the phrase ‘scriptores classici’, ‘first-class writers.’

Which makes me think of another good derivation: our word “classis”, as in “Classis East” and “Classis West”, the two main ecclesiastical and geographical divisions of churches in the PRC. My Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th edition, c.2002) defines “classis” as “a governing body in certain Reformed churches, consisting of the minister and representative elders from each church in a district”. With Classis East meeting this morning in my home church (Faith PRC), it is good for us to remember that the church truly is Christ’s “first-class” body. She is a classic and classical! Not because of anything in her, but because He loved her, died for her, and lives within her. Let us pray for her in all her life and labors.

Published in: on May 8, 2013 at 6:31 AM  Comments (1)  
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Word Wednesday: “Terrific”

UnfortunateEnglishFor our Word Wednesday feature this week, we grab another selection from the book Unfortunate English: The Gloomy Truth Behind the Words You Use by Bill Brohaugh (Writer’s Digest, 2006). Taking our final choice from the section called “It Pains Me to Say: Words of Assault, Torture, Bloodletting, and Death”, we choose the word “terrific”. And here is the interesting entry for this “normal” word (we think!):

‘Terrorists are terrific!’

I did not say this, and in fact that sentence is something that no one will ever say (not even as a slogan to recruit fanatics into murderous organizations). Yet it is true in the original sense of the now bizarrely redefined word terrific. Originally, something terrific fightened you. It caused terror. By the early 1800s the meaning had softened to communicate intensity, severity, or extremity, frightening or not. For example, a ‘terrific storm,’ meaning a large and powerful storm. By the early 1900s, terrific meant severely good. Same story for awesome, which went from ‘full of awe (reverence)’ in the 1500s to ‘inspiring awe (fear and dread)’ in the 1600s to ‘remarkable’ in the 1960s to ‘Awesome, man!’ in the 19080s. Fearful suffered such weakening, as well.

Terrible underwent similar softening (though terrible is a much older word, in use before 1400, while terrific was first recorded in 1667 in Milton). Terrible moved from ‘terrifying’ (and ‘terrific’) to ‘awful or bad’ by the late 1500s.

Dreadful wandered down the same path from its Old English meaning of ‘filled with dread’ by the early 1200s to ‘inspiring dread’ a bit later to ‘awful or bad’ by 1700. Awful – same thing. ‘Inspiring dread’ and then ‘commanding respect’ in Old English, to ‘majestic’ by the mid-1600s to ‘egregious, bad’ by the early 1800s. (And there are others – horrible is another good example.)

And the fact that powerful words can lose their meanings in this way is both terrible and terrible, dreadful and dreadful, awful and awful, horrible and horrible (pp.44-45).

Word Wednesday: “Cleanliness is next to godliness”, etc.

DictionaryofWordOriginsFor our Wednesday “Word of the Week” feature we are going to return to the book Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (Harper & Row, 1962) and pick out a couple of somewhat familiar phrases to discover their origin. The two expressions are “cleanliness is next to godliness” – often attributed to us Dutch folk – and “raising Cain”. Let’s see what William and Mary Morris have to say about these phrases:

cleanliness is next to godliness

This expression is often thought to be a saying created by Benjamin Franklin in his ‘Poor Richard’s Almanac’. But if this adage did appear in “Poor Richard”, it certainly was not original with Franklin. The earliest written record of it in English is in a sermon by John Wesley, the great British clergyman of the eighteenth century who founded Methodism. Significantly, Wesley put quotation marks around the phrase when he used it, indicating that it was already a well-known saying.

There is evidence, indeed, that the idea of cleanliness being next to godliness – although not, of course, phrased in those precise English words – is just about as old as civilization. In any event, we find in the Talmud, the collection of writings that forms the foundation of Jewish civil and religious law, the following: ‘The doctrines of religion are resolved into carefulness; carefulness into vigorousness; vigorousness into guiltlessness; guiltlessness into abstemiousness; abstemiousness into cleanliness; cleanliness into godliness.’ Thus, you see that, in this formulation of doctrine, cleanliness is quite literally next to godliness (p.77) [In the Dutch talmud, however, this is not quite what was meant – just ask my mother! -cjt]


to raise Cain

In the term ‘raising Cain’ the allusion is to Cain, brother of Abel and traditionally the world’s first criminal. In earlier times, ‘Cain’ was used by God-fearing folk as a euphemism for ‘devil’ and the expression ‘to raise Cain’, meaning to create a loud disturbance or to cause a great deal of trouble, was used instead of ‘to raise the devil.’

As long ago as 1840, newspapermen were making puns on the phrase, as witness this howler from the long defunct St.Louis ‘Pennant’: ‘Why have we every reason to believe that Adam and Eve were both rowdies? Because they both raised Cain!’

I think we can agree that standards of newspaper wit are a little higher than they were a century ago’ (pp.288-9) [That might be disputed in our own time! -cjt]