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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grave adultery

English (and I suspect every language) has pairs of words which look, sound and mean like they are or might be related, but actually aren’t. I encountered two pairs this week. After work on Monday I had to attend to an official task, so in my last email to my colleagues I said I was going “to adult” after work. The next morning I said that that result of my adultery adulting was that I have to pay more money for an official task than I thought I would. 

So are adult and adultery related? I had vaguely assumed that adultery is something which adults do, which is kind of true, but … ummm … no. Adult is from Latin adultus, grown and adolēre, to make grow, and adultery is from Latin adulterātus mixed, adulterated and adulterāre, compare English alter, change and Latin alter, other. Adultery and adulteration are related, but the former now refers only to sexual activity outside marriage and the latter most often to food(s), milk, goods, article(s), samples, drugs, butter and liquors. I pondered whether the biblical commandment also refers to the latter meaning, given so many other laws against mixing things, but Wikipedia’s article only discusses the first meaning.

One of my colleagues expressed puzzlement at my use of adult as a verb, but it’s reached major dictionaries:

Informal. (of a young person) to do things and assume responsibilities that are associated with being an adult; act like an adult (usually used facetiously about minor accomplishments):

(not necessarily of a young person!)

The internet is full of words and images along the lines of I don’t want to adult today. I don’t even want to person. I want to cat or dog or goat. (Note that in the sense of follow someone or something, dog is a perfectly good verb.)

I’m not sure how I got thinking about the word grave, with its two meanings of a burial hole and solemn, which could be related: a grave mistake is one which will put you in a grave, and your friends will stand around looking grave. But, again, no. The burial hole is from Old English græf, cognate with German Grab. The solemn mistake or looks are from Latin gravis, heavy. But the first meaning is related to engrave and a graven image.

I am in the middle of a burst of activity in researching family history. I have a moderately large amount of material already, so my first task is collate that, but in confirming that with official sources, I have found a lot more. One of my ancestral families has the surname Grace. Along the way, I have found the website Find a grave. Now, I keep mis-typing the two words, especially because c and v are next to each other on the keyboard.

Biblical gramma

I occasionally attempt to learn some biblical Greek. During my last burst, I spotted three slightly related words. 

The first is μαθητής mathetes (singular), μᾰθηταί mathetai (plural). In any other context, this would be translated as learner, student, follower or adherent, usually of a philosopher or rhetorician, but in biblical translations, it is usually translated as disciple (from Latin discipulus).  

The second is απόστολος apostolos (singular), απόστολοι apostoloi (plural); not surprisingly, apostle. This means one who is sent (ἀπό-, apó-, from + στέλλω, stéllō, I send). The closest Latin word is delegate (dē-, from + lēgātus chosen, selected, appointed), and I can’t think of any Germanic word except sendee, which Pages for Mac and WordPress both red-underline. (There is an old joke that an epistle is the wife of an apostle. One of my first linguistic musings was why epistle had an ‘i’ while apostle had an ‘o’. I later found out that the words are not e + pistle and a + postle but epi + stle and apo + stle.)   

The third is γραμματέας grammateas (singular), γραμματείς grammateis (plural), which is not related to grammar in the modern sense but to writing (γράμμα grámma) (compare Latin scrībō). Originally, it was anyone who wrote for a living, but in biblical terms is a scribe of the religious law (Hebrew סוֹפֵר sofér).

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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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