or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Look Up

Recently I used the word "heaven" in a tweet (yeah, I do use Twitter, but only in the service of my other blog) on the way to work, and what do you suppose? I began to wonder about the etymology of it.

There is a mental checklist that it is helpful to run through when you are pondering unknown etymologies and don't have a dictionary at hand:

1) Latin, of course, depending on the affixes, or possibly
2) French if the vowels work. And then there is
3) Greek if the consonants fit, but otherwise probably
4) Norse, though if it's short and basic, then maybe
5) Old English, possibly through
6) Germanic.

So: "Heaven". Almost certainly not Latin, which gave us "celestial", from "caelum": therefore not French, which uses its descendant "ciel". German likewise uses "Himmel", so probably not that. Greek is most unlikely: I can't even guess what the Greek would be. Norse. How about Norse? Or Old English, which often amounts to more or less the same thing? If you collapse "heaven" into something Norse-ish or Old English-esque like "hefn", then that is a distinct possibility.

And so it is: Old English "heofon", to be exact. The thing is, though, that the German word is actually related to "heofon", although you'd never know it by looking at them: "himin" and "hibin" were two variants of the same thing, and the German word took the first path and the English took the second.

Turns out, since you have to have been wondering, that the Greek word I couldn't call to mind is "paradeisos", the source of English "paradise", possibly from an Arabic word meaning "walled enclosure".


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