Friday, January 11, 2008

A is for Abba

When I started this series about words, I promised to highlight "the many languages from which English derives," but so far it seems the only other language I've highlighted is Latin. The word abba goes all the way back through Latin and Greek to the Aramaic and Hebrew. It derives ultimately from one of the simplest words in one of the world's oldest languages, ancient Hebrew. The root of abba is av, the Hebrew word for father. I say it is one of the simplest words in the world because it is formed from just two letters, and those two are the first two letters of the Hebrew alefbet, which evolved into the first two letters of the other western alphabets.
The word abba in modern Hebrew is an affectionate term for father. It is formed by adding an additional alef to the end of av. Anciently, in Aramaic it seems to have had a slightly more formal connotation.

The word abba comes to us in English through the Greek of the gospels and the letters of Paul, and it is currently defined as "a title of honor for bishops and patriarchs in some Christian churches of Egypt, Syria, and Ethiopia."
The English word abbot (the superior of a monastery) follows a similar etymological path back to abba and av. At some point in this series, I would like to discuss the alphabet and the inherent meanings of the individual letters, but for now—enough.
Here is a link to a very nice story about one Abba and his family.
Orig: 6/3/08