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Issue 68   

January 10, 2000
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The name Jesus, referring to Jesus Christ, is not a very old word in English, considering the age of Christianity.  In Old English God’s son was referred to as hæland “savior”, which comes from a Proto-Germanic root hailjan “to heal, to save”.  He was even referred to as hælendes cristes.  However, by the Middle English period, French Iesu made an appearance and was adopted by English speakers quite readily.  There is a quotation from about 1175 in which both the Old English and the Middle English terms are used: “Ures hlafordes to-cyme Þes helendes iesu cristes.”

Iesus is the Latin nominative form of Iesu, and it became common in the 16th century.  Throughout that century both Iesus and Iesu were used, though the latter was usually restricted to translating Greek vocative and oblique cases.  The following examples of each use are from Tyndale’s version of the New Testament, from 1526:

The boke off the generacion off Ihesus Christ.  Matt. i. 1 

O Iesu the sonne off God.  Matt. viii. 29 

Iesu master, have mercy on vs.  Luke xvii. 13 

Iesus the sonne of David, have mercy on me.  Luke xviii. 38 

Even soo: come lorde Iesu.  Rev. xxii 20

What have I to do wyth the Iesus the sonne off the moost hyest?  Luke viii. 28 

The grace of oure lorde Iesus Christ be with you all.  Rev. xxii. 21 

Wheroff I maye reioyse in Christ Iesu.  Rom. xv. 17 

For oure lorde Iesu Christes sake.  Rom. xv. 30

It was not until the 17th century that a J came to be used in place of the initial I: “Jesu is in my heart, his sacred name Is deeply carved there” (G. Herbert, Temple, Jesu, 1633). The form Jesus (with the final s) became common in the 18th century.  Thereafter the form Jesu was usually restricted to hymnal or poetic use.

As an aside, the letter I had two values in English from the 11th to the 17th centuries:  both the vowel sound associated with I as well as the J sound.  Therefore, Iesus was pronounced similarly to today’s Jesus; it was only the orthography which changed in the 17th century.  It is interesting to note that Welsh today retains the Iesu form but pronounces it according to Welsh rules: “yessy”.

The French form Iesu derived from Latin Iosus, which was adopted by the Romans from Greek Iesous.  Greek obtained that word from late Hebrew or Aramaic Yoshua “Joshua”.  The earlier Aramaic form had been Jehoshua (Y’hoshua) or Joshua.  That word’s etymology is explained as meaning “Jah is salvation”, where Jah is short for Jahweh.  Aramaic y’shuoh means “salvation, deliverance”.  Note that Joshua and Jehoshua were common Hebrew names in Jesus’ time.

It is interesting to note that, in Middle English manuscripts, Jesus was often written IHS, which was an abbreviation of Greek IHSOYS ("Iesous").  Today Jesus is a name that is known and used internationally. 

As the name Jesus is often associated with Christ, the etymology of Christ may be of interest.  It was Crist in Old English, having derived from Latin Christus, which itself was adopted from Greek Christos “Christ”, the noun use of the verb meaning “anointed”.  Incidentally, that was a direct translation of Hebrew mashiah “anointed” (English messiah), which was short for m’shiah yahweh “the Lord’s anointed”.  The ch- spelling of Christ in English did not become prevalent until the 15th century (and that applies to related words like chrism, as well).  The earliest recorded use of the word in English is found in the Lindisfarne Gospels (from about 950): “Arises forðon wiðer~wearde crist & lease witgo” which means “For false Messiahs and false prophets will appear” (Matt. 24:24).

AG00003_.gif (10348 bytes) Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From Peter Zoulas:

Can you tell me the origin of he word maniac?  My mother was born in Greece and told me about an area in Greece near where she lived called Mania.  she claims that the ancient people of that area were a wild and warring group and would often fight amongst themselves if they didn't have anyone else to fight.  The people from there are called Maniatis and my mother would often call me that if I were acting aggressive.  Do you think that he word maniac derives from there?

This place, if it exists at all, must be extremely small as we can find not a scrap of information about it.  There is a Greek surname Maniatis, though.  But even if there is no such place as Mania in Greece, our words maniac (which originally meant "affected with a mania") and mania do have their origins in the Greek word mania, "madness" which derives ultimately from the Indo-European root men- "mind".  Men- has given English and other languages many mind-related words, for example mental.  As early as 1400 mania was used to refer to madness involving great excitement and delusions.  By the late 17th century it was used to refer to an enthusiasm that resembled madness: "So vaine a thing it is to set ones heart vpon any thing of this nature with that passion & mania, that unsatiable Earle..did, to the detriment of his estate and family" wrote John Evelyn in his "Brief Lives" (1689).  As early as 1777 mania was used with another word to indicate the sort of mania: "The rage for building in somewhat similar to the tulip mania in Holland."   Now, hands up all those who thought Beatlemania the first such term.

From Lute Oas:

Glitch has been commonly used to describe a computing error or some other mistake.  The first time I ever saw the word was in the 1970s years before I had heard it used to refer to a computing error.  In an issue of MAD magazine a Don Martin cartoon showed a man stepping in a dog's mess on the sidewalk and making the sound glitch.  The word caught on with me and my siblings and we made good use of it.  Did other people take a liking to this word, as well, leading to its common usage?  I heard today that Don Martin passed away and was wondering if the word glitch may have been one of his legacies.  Was this the origin of glitch or did it have some other origination which predated the 1970s?

It did predate the 1970s.  In fact, the OED reports its first appearance from 1962, in which John Glenn (the astronaut) defined the word as originally meaning "a spike or change in voltage in an electrical circuit which takes place when the circuit suddenly has a new load put on it...A glitch is such a minute change in voltage that no fuse could protect against it."  Beyond that, however, the OED has nothing to say about the word's origin, claiming that its etymology is "unknown".  Other authorities suggest that it comes from the German glitschen, "to slip, to slide" via the Yiddish word glitsh, "slippery area". 

From CJ Miller:

What is the origin of cab or taxi cab?

Today's taxi cab.Cab is a shortened form of cabriolet, which was a variety of horse drawn carriage.  As this kind of carriage was used frequently for public  transportation the term was retained even after the cabriolet was superceded by the hansom and later, of course, hired cars. The hansom, also known as a hansom cab, familiar to all readers of the Sherlock Holmes stories, was as much a feature of 19th century London as its black taxicabs are today.  In fact, until fairly recently, all London taxicabs were supposed to carry a bale of hay for the horse.

Today one hears the term cab still used to refer to what are also known as taxis or taxi cabs.   Of course, there is also the Cabriolet, which is a model of Volkswagen sold in America.  Now you can see where Volkswagen got that name.

The original cabriolet (late 18th century) was a light, two-wheeled buggy drawn by one horse, with a large leather hood or roof, and an apron to cover the legs and lap of the passengers, protecting them from weather and dust, respectively.  The word is French and derives from the Old Provencal cabri, "kid" which in turn comes from the Latin caper "goat".  This Latin word also gave us the verb to caper, caprice, capricious, Capricorn and the caper which means "a frolic" but not the caper which is a pickled flower bud (that one's Greek).  Presumably, the vehicle got its name from its goat-like, leaping motion.  

A taxi, on the other hand, is not a kind of carriage.   It is an abbreviation of taximeter which is the device  which measures the distance traveled and indicates the fare due.  Taximeter dates from the late 19th century, and it was borrowed from French taximètre, formed from taxe "tariff" and mètre "meter".  It was shortened to taxi in the early 20th century.

From Janet Davidson:

I am a high school English teacher and I try to interest my students in the origin and derivation of words.  One of my students asked me about the modern use of the word guy referring to an adolescent male or young man.  The only guess I can make is that it is from the name Guy, as in Guy Fawkes, but I don't know why that would become a generic term.  can you help?  Thanks.

You are correct in surmising that the word comes from Guy Fawkes.  That unlucky fellow, whose first name was actually Guido, may have givenOne artist's idea of Guy Fawkes. American English, at least, a reason to remember him.  The English celebrate something called Guy Fawkes' Day every year on November 5, the anniversary of the date that Mr. Fawkes is alleged to have attempted the destruction of London's Palace of Westminster  in 1605, during the reign of James I.  Scholars have speculated that Guy and his co-conspirators were set up by the English secret police.  It is certainly odd that James suddenly took a notion to inspect the cellars beneath his throne just when they happened to be full of kegs of gunpowder.  No monarch ever bothered to  do this before and none have done it since.  The Palace of Westminster was an earlier version of the Houses of Parliament and some cynics have pointed out that Guy Fawkes was the only man to go to Parliament with the intention of keeping a promise.

Each Guy Fawkes Day, weird-looking effigies of Mr. Fawkes were created and burned.  By the early 19th century, the term Guy was used to refer to anyone looking weird or strange, as those effigies did. From there, guy came to mean any poor or shabbily dressed person.  By the mid-19th century, Americans apparently picked up the word but applied it to any man, such as this quotation from 1847: "I can’t tonight, for I am going to be seduced by a rich old Guy."  That's the earliest American example, according to the OED.  The capitalization of the first letter of Guy is of note there.  Later quotations have the entire word in lower case.

One might wonder if common use of the first name Guy might have had some influence on American usage of the more general term, but the name Guy has not been common at all in the U.S., so that notion holds no water.

From a reader:

What is the etymology of autumn

This word came to English from Old French autompne "autumn", and the French got it from Latin Autumn leaves.autumnus.  That's all we know with certainty, believe it or not!  Some suggest that the Romans appropriated the word from Etruscan, an extinct language spoken in ancient times in what is now Italy.  Autumn entered English in the 14th century and by the 16th century had supplanted the Old English form, harvest, so named for obvious reasons.  Fall is a common synonym in the U.S., and it arose in the 16th century, as well.  It often appeared in the form fall of the leaf, referring, of course, to the shedding of leaves by deciduous trees.  It is heard less commonly in Britain today.

You may not have known that, while autumn officially begins on September 21 and ends December 21, in Britain it is popularly thought of as extending from August to October, and in North America from September to November.

curmdgeon.GIF (1254 bytes) Curmudgeon's Corner

where Malcolm Tent proclaims that it is

Happy New Year's...

I am always hearing "Happy new years" around this time of the year.  Now we know that folks aren't wishing us a succession of happy new years.  For over a century, Americans have elided "New-year's day" to "New-year's" but to wish someone "Happy new year's" is an entirely different matter.  These Scrooges who cheerfully utter "Happy new year's"  are only wishing us to be happy for a mere 24 hours.  It is, of course, possible that they intend to wish us "Happy New-year's eve and New-year's day" in which case they are granting us their benediction for all of 48 hours.  But  shouldn't we be wishing that our friends be well for the entire year to come?  If nothing else, "Happy new year" is easier to say than "Happy new year's".

Oh, by the way, have a happy new year.

Sez You...

From David G. Helm:

I read and enjoy your website every week. I appreciate the amount of work that goes into it.  I read your explanations about the origin of the term Limey to refer to Britons which I had learned years before in science or history class in school. Curious, though, in my American classroom explanation, it was the British officers who noticed that American sailors did not contract scurvy because they carried citrus fruits with them (the American sailors having already figured out the connection between citrus and scurvy). The British navy then copied the American practice and cured scurvy in their navy.  I'm quite certain this was in the textbook, not just something a teacher told us, but I can't remember which textbook now. Although at the time, I accepted this as another instance of "Yankee Ingenuity", I can't help but think it might have been American bias.

We'd call that more than a bias - it sounds like revisionist history to us!  A British physician by the name of James Lind performed experiments regarding scurvy in the 18th century, and he found that citrus fruits cured it.  It was because of this discovery that lime-consumption was enforced in the British Navy.  American sailors probably didn't even have to contend with much scurvy as they weren't maintaining a world-wide empire as the British were.  Without an empire they didn't have to take long sea voyages.  Without the long voyages they had little or no scurvy.  Without the scurvy they had no urgent reason  to find a cure.

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