For those who are linguists there was big news recently when Merriam-Webster announced the addition of new words for their 2018 edition of their classic book. If you didn’t see that report, there are 850 new terms. They stated that these come from a cross-section of our linguistic culture and include some new definitions for existing words.
What fascinates me is that I have not heard of more than a few of these. Additionally, though I love words, I do not consider myself to be a true linguaphile (a person who loves languages and words).
Some of the new additions include: cryptocurrency, chiweenie, harissa, wordie, tzatziki, hangry, and bingeable. Are these in your current vocabulary? Do you know what they mean? They are so new that the Word program spell check does not even recognize them so they are all underlined in a squiggly red line.
It was interesting to me to read what Merriam-Webster stated on their website as they introduced these new words and definitions. Let me share it with you:
“The language doesn’t take a vacation, and neither does the dictionary. The words we use are constantly changing in big ways and small, and we’re here to record those changes. Each word has taken its own path in its own time to become part of our language – to be used frequently enough by some in order to be placed in a reference for all. If you’re likely to encounter a word in the wild, whether in the news, a restaurant menu, a tech update, or a Twitter meme, that word belongs in the dictionary.”
I don’t recall the edition in our current library, but I am certain it is out of date. I knew that dictionaries evolved over time, but the speed and degree in which they have changed really surprises me. How many “new” words present when the first dictionaries were published in the 1500’s even exist today?
I wonder if the difficulty for us comes from the perception that dictionaries exist to tell us the meanings of words as if they are set. We are often scurrying to dictionaries on our devices or occasionally a real reference book searching for the meaning or spelling of a word. But in reality dictionaries tell us how those words are used even if there is a meaning listed. As such words are far less scientific and more artistic than we often believe.
It is little wonder that sacred words associated with faith, religion, or spirituality are increasingly debated as to the real meanings. It’s why looking at the original language the scripture was written in and the usage and meaning of the word at that time is so important. There is also the pesky problem that some languages have multiple words that refer to the word love while the English language is focused on one word even though one can hardly equate love of pizza to love of one’s spouse or child.
One of the things about the Bible that is also fascinating is how much figurative language is used. Such language gives us pause and stirs our imagination. Perhaps that is the Lord’s intent.
The writer of Hebrews begins chapter 4 verse 12 this way in the NIV: For the word of God is alive and active.“ What understanding do we gain by that description of God’s Word?
Some of us grew up with an understanding of the most used spiritual sacred words that limited our view of who God is and what our relationship could be or ought to be. Those understandings sometimes distorted our view of Him and kept us at a distance. Reimagining the words and delving into the actual meanings based on their original language and usage can dramatically affect and correct misunderstandings and bring us closer to the Lord.
Words have impact, but sacred words are transformative.
When we write them, say them aloud, and allow them to take root in our hearts, sacred words can result in a metamorphosis in our knowledge, understanding, and personhood. We have the potential to become new persons.
When we use sacred words or spiritual language as we grow and move in our faith walk, I hope we discover the depth of them as we lean in closer to hear the Holy Spirit’s whispers to our hearts.
“No matter where you find yourself, the most important thing about learning (or relearning) a vocabulary of faith is to remember that in the words of Reynolds Price, “language is a vehicle, almost never a destination.” When we speak, we aren’t just saying something – we’re pointing to something. In the case of sacred language, we’re pointing to meaning, to identity, to transcendence, and ultimately, to God.” Jonathan Merritt
Every word Jesus said has a life-changing value.
His words disrupted the culture of his time on earth.
They still do that in many ways and places today.
Opportunities to hear and read the Word are precious and not available to everyone around the world. Let us never forget that privilege and gift and take seriously the words from the prophet Amos in the Old Testament:
“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”
Amos 8:11 (NIV)