Friday, May 15, 2009

A is for Amen

Recently someone made what he considered a clever comment about three English words known around the world—amen, hallelujah, and Coca-Cola. The ironic thing is that none of the three is really English. (Okay, I suppose we can consider the word Coca-Cola in its form as a trademark to be a native American English invention, but coca and cola themselves are simply transliterations from their original languages—Quechua and Temne respectively).

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language gives the etymology of amen as follows: [from Middle English from Old English from Late Latin from Greek from Hebrew]
The word passed through these languages virtually unchanged, simply transliterated in each case.

The original Hebrew word amen is part of a wonderful constellation of words having to do with truth (see my earlier entry)—or faithfulness. The word amen has been used in its untranslated form in virtually all of the world’s languages and thereby has blessed and enriched virtually all of the world’s peoples.

This is another Hebrew word that has found its way around the world without translation. Although today it is commonly used as an exclamation or interjection used to express joy or praise, the original word is in fact an imperative, i.e. “praise the LORD” (the word LORD being an evasive synonym in English for the name of God after the pattern used in Hebrew). The word Hallelujah (and its unaspirated Greek form alleluia) are among the most popular words in western religious hymns and songs of praise.


Coca-Cola is not, strictly speaking, an English word either. Coca comes through Spanish from Quechua, from the dried leaves of the plant from which cocaine is extracted.

Cola, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is either of two tropical African evergreen plants having nutlike seeds yielding an extract that contains caffeine and theobromine and is used in carbonated beverages and pharmaceuticals. Cola finds its origin in West Africa, possibly from the word kola (the kola nut) in the Temne language.


Larry said...

Sometime early in Coca Cola’s history there was enough of the coca in it to cause addiction. When discovered, the government forced them to modify the product.

Bonnie said...

Very very interesting !!

And they didn't modify the product enough to stop addiction ... if I drink even a glass of it, I find it very difficult to not have another glass the next day. I have to not drink Coca Cola at all ... and I haven't ... not since we visited at Christmas time !