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Today's Word



Dec 9, 2019
This week’s theme
Biblical allusions

This week’s words
corbie messenger
land of nod

corbie messenger
The Assuaging of the Waters (detail)
Art: John Martin, 1840

Previous week’s theme
Illustrated words
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with Anu Garg

A language belongs to anyone who speaks it, not to a country or corporation or religion. I was reminded of this when I came across this news item (permalink). Some students in a university in India had boycotted classes because their Sanskrit professor was a Muslim. The Sanskrit language can only be taught by a Hindu, they had claimed.

Sanskrit was the language of choice for Hindu scriptures, but that has no bearing on who can study or teach the language. Did those students also boycott their English classes because the professor wasn’t a Christian?

Well, the Bible wasn’t written in English (it was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. See here.), but it has influenced the language. Many Biblical allusions have become a part of the language. This week we’ll see five of them.

For even more words having origins in the Bible see here.

corbie messenger

(KOR-bee mes-uhn-juhr)

noun: A messenger who does not arrive or return in time.

noun: From allusion to the crow that Noah had sent out from his ark. From corbin (raven), from Old French corbin, from Latin corvus (raven, crow). Earliest documented use: 1525.

In the Bible, after months of floating around, Noah has his ark parked on Mt. Ararat. He picks a raven from his menagerie to go scout the scene. The bird never returns. Then Noah picks a dove and the dove does dutifully return. The moral of the story?

All you need is Dove.

But let’s not be too hard on the raven. Every body is beautiful.

Everyday moisture is the key to beautiful skin Yes, but “forty days and forty nights” of moisture is a little too much.

“I will be no corbie-messenger in mine old age -- your message to your son shall be done as truly by me as if it concerned another man’s neck.”
Walter Scott; The Abbott; Archibald Constable and John Ballantyne; 1820.

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. -John Milton, poet (9 Dec 1608-1674)

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