April 8, 2015

Trivia question: what’s the best-known word in human speech?

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Tags: , — Ann @ 7:06 am
So be it.

Aka, you said it, sister!

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook and saw that one of my friends had commented on a post, “Amen!” Later, driving to work, I started giving serious thought to the word. First of all, there’s the pronunciation. Growing up, I mainly attended Protestant churches where everyone chimed in with “ay-men” or “ah-men.” Later, attending services with a Jewish partner, I noted that the congregants all said “Ah-main,” the Hebrew pronunciation.

According to myjewishlearning.com, the word is a liturgical response common to all three of the Abrahamic faiths. Bouncing around on Google, I discovered that there’s no real agreement as to its origins and it pretty much depends on who you ask. I saw references to the word being of Greek, Christian, Hebrew, Hindu, and Pagan origin. If you want to read more about its roots, head over to Wikipedia and scroll down to “Etymology.” Most Jewish sources agree that “amen” has the same Hebrew root as emunah (faith) and is also connected with the word emet meaning “truth.” But there’s not even real agreement as to how it should be translated. Depending on where you go on the Internet, it means “so be it,” “truly,” “in truth, “affirmed,” or “trust in the Lord.” Some say it’s the best-known word in human speech; others say that “okay” gets that distinction. (If you really want to delve into murky etymological waters, check out the word “selah” on Wikipedia. In Judaism, it’s like “amen” but even more so — a sort of industrial-strength version. However, no one knows what it means or where it came from. And whereas “amen” appears in the Bible a mere 30 times, “selah” appears a whopping 74 times. Selah is the last word in Anita Diamant’s book “The Red Tent. It’s even heard in some reggae songs.)

So, some say ah-men, some say ay-men, some say ah-main, and some even say selah. However, many years ago when I was attending Jewish services regularly with my partner, I found that my years of exposure to Christian liturgy made me uncomfortable with “Ah-main,” so I created my own response. Which is why, if you ever go to services with me and listen very carefully at the end of prayers, you’ll hear me softly intoning this: “I’m in.”

Nobody’s the wiser, and it works for me.

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