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Sunday, 29 March 2015

Why do we say 'Good' Friday?

No clear answer to this question. Good Friday is the day of greatest sorrow for Christians but 'Good' here is meant in the archaic sense of 'holy'.

Good Friday, called Feria VI in Parasceve in the Roman Missalhe hagia kai megale paraskeue (the Holy and Great Friday) in theGreek LiturgyHoly Friday in Romance Languages, Charfreitag (Sorrowful Friday) in German, is the English designation of Friday in Holy Week   source

What is being marked by the word Good is the uniqueness of the event - rather any kind of celebration.

Kindle Bible - The Holy Bible Formatted for the Amazon Kindle
Authorized King James Version Holy Bible for Kindle (Kindle MasterLink Technology):

Friday, 27 March 2015

What is Passover? Where does the word come from?

The Seder is the special meal that celebrates Passover


[pas-oh-ver, pahs-] 
Also called PesachPesah. a Jewish festival that commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and is marked chiefly by the Seder ritual and the eating of matzoth. It begins on the 14th day of Nisan and is celebrated for eight days by Orthodox and Conservative Jews outside of Israel and for seven days by Reform Jews and Jews in Israel.
(lowercasepaschal lamb (def. 1).
1520–30; noun use of verb phrase pass over, as translation of Hebrew pesaḥ 
The Passover story is told in the Book of Exodus, Chapter 12 in the Torah
See here for a short summary of Passover traditions.

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Where does the word Easter come from?

There is no reference to the word Easter in the New Testament. Nor does it feature in most translations of the Bible into vernacular languages. Most use a derivation of the Jewish feast of Passover  - rooting the key events in their historical and religious context . 

In other languages there is often more linguistic emphasis on the idea of Holy Week (e.g.Semana Santa in Spanish).

So why Easter in English? Scholars agree that the origin is pre-Christian and pagan rather than strictly Biblical. Beyond that there is little consensus.
The most popular theory is reflected in the entry for Easter in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary:

Old English ēastre, after a Germanic goddess Eostre; related to Old High German ōstarūn Easter, Old Norse austr to the east, Old Slavonic ustru like summer.
According to this explanation, the Old English word eastre came Eostre, "a goddess associated with spring."
Further elaboration is found in a work written in AD 725 by Saint Bede, an English monk and historian. According to Bede, April was called Eosturmonath ("Easter-month") because in pagan times the month was dedicated to Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. 
Ostara (1884) by Johannes Gehrts
When Christian beliefs spread throughout England, says Bede, Easter-month lent its name to the new April festival.
Another theory is that Eostre was simply the Anglo-Saxon word for spring festivals. Linguists trace this word to roots thousands of years old meaning "shine" and "dawn." Spring is a season of lengthening days and increased light. It would make sense for early peoples to give their spring festivals a name that celebrated the rising sun. Source

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Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Which language has the most words?

Difficult to calculate if you include non-alphabetic languages - but amongst the European contenders we can compare dictionaries.

The OED is  by far the largest dictionary. It has 23 volumes and defines 615,100 words.

❏ A similar German dictionary offers around 180,000 words. 
❏ A Russian language dictionary has around 160,000 words 
❏ A French edition has less than 150,000 words. 

This suggests English probably has the biggest vocabulary of all the European languages. However there is another problems in making this comparison ….

What is a word?

One issue is how what we define as a word. For example, the OED
distinguishes 430 senses for the verb set. Is each form of set a separate word? Linguists make the distinction between words and lexemes. The lexeme ‘run’, for example, includes all its forms: run, running, ran etc.

And what about numbers? If you count to a million, do you have a
million words?

Are all the words in OED in use?

41,700 OED words are obsolete . This means that you are unlikely to use them.

240 are ghost words. A ghost word has never existed outside dictionaries.

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Saturday, 14 March 2015

Japanese words in English?

Origin: 布団 (futon)
First known use: 1876

There are a surprisingly large number of Japanese loanwords in English, though these are concentrated in particular word categories. Here are some examples:


bonsai, anime, origami, karaoke, haiku, manga, karate, judo, aikido, jujutsu


tycoon, Shogun, mikado


typhoon, tsunami


Zen, Shinto 


kimono, obi


sushi, satsuma, miso, tempura, saki

Oxford English Dictionary editor, John Simpson, explains how Japanese words entered English in three distinct historical phases: 

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Friday, 6 March 2015

How many countries have English as their official language?

58 countries have English as an official language - and they do not include either the UK or the USA. 

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Monday, 2 March 2015

What is the shortest complete sentence in English?

My vote for the shortest sentence in English is 'Go!'
It has an active verb, an implied subject and a clear meaning.

Not everyone agrees. 'I am' is one commonly cited alternative - but I feel this fails the 'complete' test. In any case, two words beats three.

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