last writes

A document mentioned that someone was unable to return to his home country to perform “last rights” for a dying or dead parent. 

Rights are legal or moral; rites are religious or social (compare rituals). Overall, rights is far more common, but last rites is far more common than last rights (“This government is taking our last rights away from us!”). There is very rarely a last rite, and a last right is almost non-existent. (Compare last right, as is “This party will last right through the night!”.)

One type of rite is a rite of passage, which term was coined by Arnold van Gennep in 1909, but didn’t become popular until the 1960s. A right of passage is a term from maritime law, but may also refer to an easement on land (also referred to as a right-of-way).



A travel documentary features Tongdosa temple (통도사) near Ulsan. According to Wikipedia, the name means Salvation of the World through Mastery of Truth. –sa means temple, so I can only assume that tong means ‘salvation of the world’ and do means ‘mastery of truth’, which is a lot of meaning in one syllable each. 

The first problem is that Wikipedia, as an open-source encyclopedia, is only as authoritative as the sources its editors cite. The citation for this particular piece of information is a perfectly ordinary travel guide. The temple’s own site doesn’t mention the meaning of the name (at least the English version and Google’s translation of the history of the temple in Korean don’t), and the only other similar reference I can find (a perfectly ordinary travel website) says “The name ‘Tongdosa’ was named after the belief that mankind can be saved through Buddhism”.

Assuming that that meaning is, in fact, true, the second problem is that no online or paper dictionary I have consulted has entries anything like this. But, just as Koreans turn 디지털 카메라 (digital camera) into 디카 (di-ka), it is possible that the name is a shortening of longer words tong(something) do(something), the equivalent of sal(vation) and mast(ery) making salmast  temple. In fact, compare 통일 (tong-il, unification) and the 통일교 (Unification movement, Unification church, ‘the Moonies’). 

As a general rule, throughout all languages, simple syllables and words have simple meanings, and complex meanings are represented by complex words. Unless I actually go there and ask someone, I will probably never know what the name actually means.

[PS Wikipedia also records the Chinese character name 通度寺. Google Translate translates 通 as, probably most relevantly, through, and 度 as degree, extent, measure, so the name is probably Sino-Korean rather than Korean.]

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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rest eternal and light perpetual

When I was drafting my previous post, I realised that I wasn’t sure about the exact wording of the funeral/memorial sentence Rest eternal rest grant (unto) them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine (up)on them.

The Latin original is Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Latin adjectives standardly follow the noun they modify (though word order in Latin is relatively free), so requiem (rest) aeternum (eternal) and lux (light) perpetua (perpetual). I searched online for an English translation. About half said rest eternal and light perpetual, and half said eternal rest and perpetual light. English adjectives standardly precede the noun they modify, but can follow them in certain circumstances, one of which is to produce an air of formality, perhaps because of the echo of Latin. (From a brief browse, no source switches word order mid-way: rest eternal and perpetual light or eternal rest and light perpetual.)

I noticed that the sources which use rest eternal and light perpetual tend to be Anglican/Episcopalian, and those which use eternal rest and perpetual light tend to be Roman Catholic. In fact, the Wikipedia article about this prayer says that Lutherans use the noun-adj order and Methodists use the adj-noun. I’m not sure what conclusion, if any, we can draw from that.

One of the many choral settings of the Latin.

the sewer of Armageddon

My fear of heights began when I climbed down the sewer of Armageddon during a thunderstorm.

Every language user has the ability to create sentences which have never before been spoken or written in that language, and every other user of that language has the ability to understand them (assuming linguistic competence, performance and cooperation by all).

Yesterday, one of my nieces, who is studying linguistics, wrote the sentence above as part of a Facebook post about the pipe organ she’s practicing on. Yes, she really did visit Israel, yes, she really did visit Tel Megiddo, yes, she really did climb down the former sewer/emergency escape route / current alternative route (with metal steps) for tourists, yes, there really was a thunderstorm at the time.

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‘no room in the ___’

Two words in St Luke’s Greek vocabulary are ‘kataluma’, where the Last Supper took place and which is usually translated ‘upper room’ (22:11, see also Mark 14.14), and ‘pandocheion’, where the Good Samaritan took the injured traveller and which is usually translated ‘inn’ (10:34). So in 2:7, describing the birth of Jesus, when he writes ‘there was no room in the ____’, which word does he use? ‘kataluma’, the upper room or guest chamber of a private house.

The Bible Gateway website compares 51 different translations. 34 of them (just on two-thirds) use ‘inn’. Other translations are: village inn 1, ‘inn [or guest room (of a private residence); or caravan shelter]’ 1 (the Expanded Bible), guest room 4, guestroom 1, guest-chamber 1, guest quarters 1, chamber 1, hostel 1, the house for strangers 1 (which suggests more a commercial inn than a private house), living-quarters 1, lodging 1, lodging place 1, the place where people stay for the night 1, malon (inn) 1 (the Orthodox Jewish Bible; ‘malon’ appears to be the Hebrew word for ‘inn’). There are several other Greek words translated ‘lodging’.

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