sun/Sun/son/Son of righteousness

My wife and I spent two nights away at a beach holiday town. This morning (Easter Day) we attended a dawn service in a park overlooking the beach. During the service, the sun rose, but the effect was diluted slightly by some small clouds on the eastern horizon. I couldn’t take any photos because I was meant to be concentrating on the service.

Probably inevitably, I got thinking about the coincidence of sun and son in English, especially in close conjunction with rising or risen. (See also sun/Sun/son/Son of righteousness.) These two words are similar in the major Germanic languages, but English seems to be the only one in which the two words are homophones: compare German Sonne and Sohn, Dutch zon and zoon, Danish sol and søn, Norwegian sol and sønn and Swedish Sol and son (Google Translate). Further, the two words have been similar for as long as written sources are available and have been reconstructed in proto-Indo-European as *séh₂wl̥ ~ *sh₂wéns and *suHnús. Are they related even further back? Intriguingly, relates son to a verb meaning “to give birth”, probably in a passive form of “having been given birth”. Unfortunately, it does not include an ultimate meaning for sun, but the relationship with “to give birth” is obvious. The answer may be in some specialised source of PIE etymology. I’ll have to leave it there, though.  

Compare Latin sol and filius, which is related to a verb meaning to suck, and the two words in any other language you know, in my case Korean 태양 (tae-yang) and 아들 (a-deul). 

Note also the Christian Church in England’s use of the Germanic pagan word Ēostre. (See my post from last year and the year before.)


gnädig und gerecht

One of the choirs I sing in has just presented our first concert since coronavirus restrictions were eased. The program was very carefully chosen around the themes of remembrance and renewal. One of the two longer works on the program was Das ist mir Lieb, a setting of a German translation of Psalm 116 by Heinrich Schütz. Although English is a Germanic language, singing in German is a strange mix of the familiar and unfamiliar, even allowing for the fact that the choirs I sing in don’t sing in German much.

Two of the verses are:

Der HERR ist gnädig und gerecht, und unser Gott ist barmherzig. 
Der HERR behütet die Einfältigen; wenn ich unterliege, so hilft er mir. 

Alright then:

The Lord is something and something else, and our God is something different again.
The Lord does something to some people. When I somethinged, he helped me.

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Resurrection Day

Last year I posted about my firm belief that yesterday and today are Easter Eve and Easter Day respectively. I drafted most of the following post, then actually re-read last year’s post and found that I said most of this in last year’s post. But I’ll post this anyway.

I have long pondered the use in English of the pagan-derived Easter instead of anything actually Christian. After researching this, I found that this is an issue in only two languages: English, which uses Easter, and German, which uses Ostern. Even the closely related Dutch and Danish use Pasen and påske respectively. These, as well as the equivalent words in most other European languages, are derived from New Testament Greek Πάσχα pascha, Aramaic, פסחא paskha and Hebrew פֶּסַח pesaḥ (most often transliterated as pesach), or passover. But using pascha, pesach or passover is going to cause more problems that it solves.

English-speaking Christians in particular can’t complain that Easter has become a secular, commercial food-and-drink-fest when we deliberately and habitually call it by the name of a pagan fertility goddess. I was flipping through a 172-page supermarket magazine and saw one full-page ad headed Celebrate Easter. It doesn’t mention Jesus’s resurrection; it was for a cheese company and featured an undoubtedly sumptuous cheese, fruit and chocolate platter. 

A few European languages unrelated words: Wikipedia lists (Indo-European Slavic) Czech Veliknoce (Great Night), Bulgarian Великден (Velikden) and Macedonian Велигден Veligden (Great Day) and (non-Indo-European Hungarian, húsvét (taking the meat, that is, the end of the Lenten fast) and Finnish language Pääsiäinen, “which implies ‘release’ or ‘liberation’”.

If I can trust Google Translate, many non-European languages use either a transliteration of Easter (Japanese  イースター Īsutā), pascha (Amharic ፋሲካ fasīka (I presume directly, given the long history of Christianity in Ethiopia) and (?) Malagasy Paka (I presume borrowed from French, given the colonial history and prevalence of Christianity there)) or their own words for resurrection  + day (Chinese  復活節 (trad) 复活节 (simp) fùhuó jié and Korean 부활절 buhwaljeol (I assume that Korean borrowed the word from Chinese in the same way that English takes most of its specialised vocabulary from Latin and Greek)). There are also a number of languages where the meaning is not immediately discernible. They are possibly related to resurrection.

I asked my wife if 부활 is used only in the religious sense and she said yes. I then said that in English resurrection is sometimes used about an actor or singer who was very popular, then not popular, then is beginning to be popular again, and she said that it’s used like that, too.

[PS A niece who is an English-speaking member of an Orthodox church and second-language speaker of Scottish Gaelic linked to a Twitter thread of speakers of various Great British languages or varieties discussing various words and phrases they use based on Pasch, Pascha or Pace, so it does happen. Wikipedia mentions the Pace egg play, and see also the Egg dance. The Pace eggs found in Sydney supermarkets are named after the (?Maltese) family-run company which produces them.]


A few weeks ago I posted about the Middle/Early Modern English word beget/begat/begot/begotten, especially as used in the King James/Authorised version of the bible. A book I am reading mentioned Anglo-Saxon/Old English translations of the bible, so I searched for those. The one I found was just of the gospels (Ða Halgan Godspel) (no original date given), so Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is on pages 1 and 2. The equivalent word is gestrydne, which is obviously not related to any word I discussed in my previous post. This website of Anglo-Saxon words defines gestrynan as get, acquire; beget. Further, Jesus wæs accened of Mary. acennan is bear, give birth to, and is also obviously not related to anything. They are also not related to words in other Germanic languages; for example German zeugte and geboren, Dutch kreeg and geboren, Norwegian fikk (got, not anything else you might think (well, I did)) and blev fød (see Bible Gateway then select the language and translation from the top right dropdown list).

The Anglo-Saxon wordlist contains words which have retained their form to modern English and have the same or a similar meaning, words which are clearly equivalent given spelling changes and words which are clearly unrelated.

In the vicinity of gestrynan (which is filed under s) are:

same form, same or similar meaning
strand – seashore, strand
stream – current, river

spelling changes
stræt – street, road
strang – strong, powerful
strengðo – strength

stræl – arrow
stregan – scatter, strew
gestreon – property, treasure
stric – pestilence (apparently not related to strike/struck/stricken)
strudan – plunder, carry off
strudung – plundering, thievery, robbery

(Draw whatever conclusions you want about the nature of Anglo-Saxon society from that list!)

Wikipedia’s page on Old English says “Perhaps around 85% of Old English words are no longer in use, but those that survived are the basic elements of Modern English vocabulary” (citing Albert Baugh, A History of the English Language (1951)).

(Some of the words in the unrelated group may have cognates in other Germanic languages. I didn’t check them all.)


Musicians in the English-speaking often use Italian musical terms instead of the English equivalents. Somehow they sound more musical, or maybe we think they are more musical because we usually encounter them in musical contexts. One of these is ritardando, which I’ll explain more in a moment. Some composers, most famously the Australian-American Percy Grainger, preferred or prefer English, specifically Germanic, terms. In Grainger’s case, unfortunately, this was specifically related to his ideas about racial purity.

A few days ago, one of the choirs I sing in sight-read a work by the American composer Leo Sowerby, whose name I knew but whose music I had never encountered. Scattered throughout is retarding, the direct equivalent of ritardando, but still Latinate. Grainger probably used the undoubtedly Germanic slowing. (I don’t know what Sowerby’s motivation in using the term was.)

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Whatever day

I am convinced that today is Easter Day, but a lot of people think it’s Easter Sunday. This is partly simple familiarity: The Book of Common Prayer, An Australian Prayer Book, A Prayer Book for Australia, the Anglican Communion’s Cycle of Prayer and probably every hymn book I’ve ever used all use Easter Day. It is partly a matter of logic and redundancy. The Day of Resurrection has always been celebrated on ‘the first day of the week’/‘the Lord’s Day’, therefore ‘Sunday’ is redundant. Forty days later comes Ascension Day, not Ascension Thursday. But there’s also Ash Wednesday, Whitsunday and Trinity Sunday, so logic and redundancy only get me so far.

Alas, Google Ngrams shows that Easter Sunday is about three to four times as common as Easter Day. Does this make Easter Sunday ‘right’ and Easter Day ‘wrong’. No. I have the right to choose what I say (I can even say ‘the Day of Resurrection’ if I want to) and everyone else has the right to choose what they say (even if they’re wrong). (Though I doubt that many people ‘choose’ what to say in this case.) I cannot possibly say Easter Sunday and I am even fighting the urge to put it in scare quotes every time I write it.

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Words from paradise

One of the choirs I sing in is rehearsing a work consisting of five movements each setting one word from the Bible. The words – holy, hallelujah, selah, hosanna and amen – are from Germanic, Hebrew, Greek and/or Latin, and are now different degrees of ‘English’.

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hearten and encourage

An article I edited during the week quoted a person connected to a certain organisation saying that a recent event was “heartening and encouraging”.

Hearten and encourage are, basically, ‘the same word’. Courage is derived from French cour/coeur, which in turn is derived from Latin cor, heart which is related to Italian cuore, Spanish corazón, and Portuguese coração. Heart is related to Dutch hart, German Herz, Danish and Norwegian hjerte and Swedish hjärta. Both words have the morpheme en, on the end of hearten and the beginning of encourage.

In fact, the further back in history you go, the more literally ‘the same word’ heart etc and cor etc are. The Proto-Indo-European word was *k̂erd. In some languages, the /k/ remained as /k/ (Greek καρδιά kardia, Latin cor and its Romance derivatives). In others, it became /h/ (English heart and its Germanic cognates) and in some it became /s/ (Polish serce, Russian сердце serdtse). These changes are not random, and can be seen in a number of other words such as Latin cornu and centum (originally and still classically pronounced with a /k/) and English horn and hundred. Experiment a bit, and you will hear and feel how similar /k/ and /h/ are – a matter of a few millimetres at the back of the throat. /k/ and /s/ might seem further away, but consider electric and electricity. These changes have happened many, many times, which is how scholars have been able to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European from the evidence of modern and documented historic languages.


Enough students to be noticeable pronounce island as ‘ice-land’, ‘eyes-land’ or ‘is-land’. Yes, an island is land, but that’s not relevant. There never was an /s/ in the pronunciation of island – the Middle English was iland and the Old English was igland. In fact, īeg meant ‘island’, so an island is really an island-land. Then someone added the s by analogy with the unrelated isle, from Latin insula via Old French.

Iceland is an island, and what prompted this post was finding out that the Icelandic word for Iceland is Ísland, which I did not know from a childhood hobby of stamp collecting. (I can’t remember that I actually had any stamps from Iceland.) In a post on the Lingua Franca blog, William Germano mentioned that Háskóli Íslands is not ‘the Haskoli Islands’, but ‘the University of Iceland‘. Thinking about it, I guessed that Háskóli is ha (high) + skoli (school), which Wiktionary confirms, and which actually makes more sense than the Latinate university, which means approximately ‘one community (of scholars)’. According to Wikipedia, the Icelandic word for ‘high school’ is framhaldsskóli (‘continued school’). (He also ponders adopting the Icelandic name Bjór Garðurinn, which means ‘beer garden’. The Germanic-ness of that is clear.)

Ireland is also an island, and in my non-rhotic pronunciation those two are pronounced identically. I sometimes find myself introducing a small /r/ to emphasise the difference.

The spelling island took off in the 1750s, for reasons I can’t discover – it was too late for the ‘Age of Discovery’ and too early for James Cook. The spelling iland was used as late as the 1788 – one online source of the diary of a First Fleet officer gave ‘Lord Howe Hand’. When I checked with the scan of the original, I found that it was actually Iland with a curlicue on the I, which the OCR had read as Hand.