Something to Peruse (Cassandra Millis)

In college, my go-to joke whenever I was working on homework was “this would be so much easier if I could read.” You can decide if my roommate was being sweet or an enabler by always laughing at that. Another phrase I liked to put at the top of all of my papers was: Words are hard. I’d have been trying to write something and those words grace my computer screen before hopefully being erased and replaced with what I’m actually supposed to be writing about- but today I want to talk about words. Communication is a phenomenally tricky thing for how common it is. I’m sure you can recall a time when you were painfully aware of just how careful you had to be in selecting your words.

Words are weird, too. They have a dictionary definition, but they also have connotation: a feeling associated with the word. This is the difference between something being cheap or inexpensive: both mean that they have relatively low cost but cheap insinuates poorly made or short-lasting, while inexpensive makes one feel like they got a great deal. Some words have been so wrapped up in cultural understanding or common placement that what people actually read or hear is drastically different than what the word technically means. For example, if you tell someone that you perused the magazine racks, most will imagine you leisurely strolling through, glancing at the titles when the proper definition (according to Merriam-Webster at least) is “read something in a careful and thorough way; examine carefully or at length.” These realities make communication challenging enough, but what if I change the language on you?

You’re probably pretty confident about your English vocabulary, but how are your Hebrew and Greek? These are the two languages in which the Bible was originally written. (Hebrew (and a little bit of Aramaic) for the Old Testament and Greek for the New) We have excellent translation resources but like every language, these too have connotation, different usages, and passages that can help illuminate the deeper meaning. Instead of my poor jokes like the one at the beginning of this post, I thought I’d take a look at some Hebrew and Greek words that crop up frequently in our faith. Ok, not really instead of- but definitely in addition to.

Take for example the word Hallelujah. You’ve undoubtedly sung this word thousands of times. (Or maybe Alleluia- though I’m sorry, if that’s the case, you are officially Catholic. Time to switch blogs. I’m kidding; that’s just the Latinization which was the second language into which the Bible was translated.) Hallelujah is a construct words which tags both the subject and the object onto the verb, essentially making it a full sentence on its own. Hallel means to worship or praise. The “u” makes it an imperative verb, or a command directed towards a group of people (at least one of whom is male, like in Spanish how if you have 7,896 girls and one boy you call them “ellos”). The “jah” is an abbreviation of the proper name of the Lord, Yahweh, (which we’ll get into in the next post). So hallelujah is a command to a group of people to praise the Lord. If you want to impress people, you can say “Hallelteeyah” instead, or “I praise the Lord.”

blog comments powered by Disqus