Origins of Words
When I was a very little kid, I used to think about the origins of words. (I still do. Almost every day I check the origin of some word that comes up. Yesterday it was “risqu.” This is not because I am lascivious ((from Latin “lascivus,” which means. well, used to mean when there were Romans, “wanton”)) but because I had just read on the label of some product ((I forget which product-I think maybe a box of macaroni & cheese)) two cautions. The manufacturers, thinking perhaps I might be in Canada, where by law all the stop signs must say both “stop” and “stp,” had printed the first version of the warning in French: “Risqu du non disassembl ntl le jour de ultimeaux.” I just knew by some sort of inner instinct planted in pre-earth life that even Canadians would not find macaroni & cheese particularly wanton, so I researched “risqu” and found it to be an offspring ((legitimate)) of the French verb meaning “to risk.” So now there was no disconnect between the French version of the warning on the package and the English version, which read, “Danger of not biodegrading until the end of the world.”
((In a particular autumn many years ago, I went to pick up my young home teaching companion Jimmy Warren, whose family owned a couple of big dogs. As I waited at the door, I noticed a little pile of macaroni & cheese on the ground over by the dog house. I reckoned that it was left over from a human meal and that the dogs were expected to be real glad to have it. In fact the dogs, following some inner instinct planted in pre-earth life, seemed to have determined not to touch it with a ten-foot pole, because when I came back again to get Jimmy a month later it was still there. Next month it snowed, so I couldn’t tell if it was there or not. After the thaws in the spring it was there, and by mid-summer the dogs had been joined by billions of micro-organisms in a pact of total disinterest in the macaroni & cheese, except that the poles with which they would not touch it were considerably shorter. After a few more years, the Warrens moved to somewhere near Canada (((where they had to paint both “Warren” and “Ourn” on their mailbox))) and their house here was sold, presumably along with the macaroni et fromage. (((“Macaroni” is almost French already, so I’m not including it in the in-joke.
((((Concerning in-jokes: Most of you will have noticed that the church is strongly emphasizing basic doctrine in our published curricula. This is because so many of the brothers and sisters who are sitting next to us in our classrooms and devouring our magazines and surfing our Meridian Magazine are recent converts and have only been sitting, devouring, and surfing, respectively, for a very short time and don’t primarily need to be pondering how many seventies can dance on the head of a pin (((((and isn’t that pretty doggoned variable according to the proportions of the particular pinhead? Or the proportions of the particular seventies, for that matter? I mean, are pinhead proportions statutorily fixed, or what? And in Canada, are they metric, or what?))))). Also, a goodly number of us old-time ninth-generation plains-crossers are probably drifting away from the basics in the direction of pinheads and need to be restored to the faith. This is all good. But it severely inhibits the proliferation of in-jokes.
Pour exampl: Once an office at BYU (((((“Brigham Young University”))))) owed me some money for some service I’d provided the university-an honorarium for a performance or a guest lecture on “Study Hard and You Might Someday Become a Meridian Columnist” or a bribe to stay the heck away, I don’t remember now-and they needed my Social Security number. Uncomfortable about sending it through cyberspace in an email, I coded it in the general tone of an in-joke. As follows: The age at which we are allowed to date, two separate occurrences of what we call the guys who sit immediately downstage of the Twelve in General Conference ((((((and occasionally gather to dance on pinheads-ha, ha)))))) the number of participants in the First Presidency, and the number of varieties offered by the Heinz corporation ((((((this last was a giveaway to gentiles everywhere, in the spirit of inter-galactic ecumenism)))))).
[Not In That Order, So Hands Off My Identity, Thank You Very Much.]
The university simply replied, “Thanks” and the check was in the mail.))))) )))) ))) )) ).
Back to when I was a very little kid. I couldn’t just bounce to the online dictionary in my etymological ponderings, as I do now (and I mean now, as in “bounce” from Middle English “bunsen,” which means “beat” or “thump.” To think that in the 1950s there were thumpniks among us!). When I was a very little kid, this computer was merely a gleam in the eye of Steve Jobs, who himself, at that time, was merely a gleam in the eye of Abdulfattah Jandali. So here’s what I did. I vividly imagined a sort of boardroom with only a long table and a bunch of grown-ups sitting around it making up words. Somebody would bring into the room a peculiar apparatus consisting of a platform with four solid cylinders protruding from it in one direction and a plane thrusting from one of the edges of the platform in the opposite direction from the cyllinders and they’d look at it carefully from all angles and after a while someone would say “How about ‘chair’?” Then there might be some courteous discussion (or discourteous, if the suggestion had been, say, “flahdah” or “ginkpip”) and, if nobody came up with anything more compelling, then “chair” it would be. I imagined it was very satisfying work. Pour exampl, that particular day would have enormously rewarding because now they knew what they had been sitting on all this time around the.? Well, maybe tomorrow they would do “table.”
It seemed perfectly logical to me. Logic came easily to me back then. Like, if you ate dirt you’re legs would break. It went like this: I saw Ross Cisneros walking with crutches on Sunday and a grown-up would say “Oh, that’s because he broke his leg refereeing the church basketball game.” Then I would see somebody else walking with the same kind of crutches because they had polio-same thing as Ross, in my estimation. I was curious about what might cause polio until a grown-up said, “Germs.” And of course my mother told me, every time she discovered me eating dirt, “Don’t eat dirt. Dirt has germs.” Ya see? (Or “Vwah-lah!” ((Phonetically rendered for those of you who may not be Canadian (((and can they skate, or what?!! I mean, holey moley-Virtue and Moir! As far as I’m concerned, they can add her to the Young Women’s values over and over again! What class and cleanliness and passion and elegance those Canadians had! Even more class and cleanliness and passion and elegance than the finale of the closing ceremonies! Imagine that! ((((Out of my genuine high regard for Canadians I have known and loved, and especially the Bikmans whom I home teach, I will deftly skirt, here, any further discussion of the closing ceremonies. Apologies to Captain Kirk, Bullwinkle Moose, the little boy who was bunsened around the ice by mammoth hockey sticks, and the reliable redhead mermaid maple leaf who the cameras could always count on.)))) ))) )) )
When I was a deacon, the mutual (it wasn’t called Young Men and Young Women until a generation came along that was even more kept behind until the last days than we were. And it’s a good thing they did come along, so the really most kept behind generation could be part of an organization that didn’t have to be called an adjective ((did I tell you before that my bishop’s kids back then were named Joy, Gay, Happy, and Cheery? They still are! Three more and they could have done very well in the mining industry, except they were of conventional height and beardless, being seventy-five percent girls.)).) climbed onto a bus and drove into downtown L.A. to attend a huge anti-communist rally. And we did attend it-most of it.
In the midst of that mass fervor, I got a pretty good grip on what the word “anti” means. Until then, the word had merely invoked the memory of wet kisses on the forehead from my mom’s sister, whose kisses I abode for the sake of the oatmeal cookies in her plastic Porky Pig, but now the real meaning became clear. I could tell that the presenters at the rally were decidedly unsympathetic toward Karl Marx and his interpreters.
Now we will depart somewhat (shouldn’t that be “somewhere”?) from origins of words into the development and deeper meanings of certain words. That night in L.A. I also came to appreciate in some small way that being “anti” suggested the absence of not only sympathy, but empathy as well. Since opposing an idea requires hard work, consisting mainly of understanding your own idea well enough not only to defend it, but also to persuade its detractors, it’s much easier for “anti” folks to attack the people who more or less believe in the target idea. Seldom is it asked “Why would a well-meaning and intelligent person believe in this here target idea?”
That’s how it often goes with anti-Mormons, pour exampl. Some principle of the Restored Gospel contradicts the traditions of men which, since the Experts clamorously agreed in 325 AD Nicaea on Who (or rather, What) God would be, have been the basis of what organized Christians are supposed to believe. This is fair game for anti-Mormons. Now it’s tough to generate much traction in a popular campaign against dusty tradition-contradictors like Arian or Eusebius or Galileo or John the Baptist. Such heresy has to be the fault of somebody more modern and vulnerable. Like, say, Joseph Smith?
But let’s all stop for a minute and ask “Why would a well-meaning and intelligent person believe in the claims and ideas of any of these guys?” Kind of changes the tone of the campaign. I imagine that even more numerous than anti-communists or anti-Mormons are those who should be asking “Why would a well-meaning and intelligent person believe in the claims and ideas of Jesus of Nazareth?” Um, because they’re true? Because they lead to a happiness that, unlike other happinesses, doesn’t make your finger turn green or your cholesterol rise or your liquid assets rust and corrupt? Because they provide the only explanations of creation, pain, marriage, gender, morality, economy, adversity, death, birth, and individual worth that actually hold up against all scrutiny?
Which brings us to an inquiry into the origins of the word “Christian.” Luke writes in the eleventh chapter of Acts that the word was first used in Antioch, after the Lord’s resurrection. I’m particularly drawn to the earlier etymology put forth in Alma (of the Book of Mormon) 48:15. “And those who did belong to the church were faithful; yea, all those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come.”
I love it that there were Christians in the New World even before Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem. I love it that there were Christians in the Garden of Eden, even if they weren’t called that, yet. I love it that there were Christians before the earth was made, who fought for the idea that life without faith and choice would not be worth living.
Which lands us at The Quintessential Etymological Statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
Neither chairs, nor boardrooms, nor anti-Mormons (anti-marmots, anti-communists, anti-columnists), nor Virtues (especially Canadian Virtues!), nor any lesser Words. Which all of us can be, if we take upon us His name.
Oh yeah. “Jesus,” Greek form of Hebrew “Joshua,” meaning “the Lord saves”; “Christ” Greek and Hebrew (through the word “Messiah”) “anointed.” The Chosen Savior.