Religion:God (word)

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Short description: English word

Earliest attestation of the Germanic word in the 6th-century Codex Argenteus (Mt 5:34)

The English word god comes from the Old English god, which itself is derived from the Proto-Germanic *gudą. Its cognates in other Germanic languages include guþ, gudis (both Gothic), guð (Old Norse), god (Old Saxon, Old Frisian, and Old Dutch), and got (Old High German).


The Proto-Germanic meaning of *gudą and its etymology is uncertain. It is generally agreed that it derives from a Proto-Indo-European neuter passive perfect participle *ǵʰu-tó-m.[1]:193-194 This form within (late) Proto-Indo-European itself was possibly ambiguous, and thought to derive from a root *ǵʰew- "to pour, libate" (the idea survives in the Dutch word giet, meaning "pour") (Sanskrit huta, see hotṛ), or from a root *ǵʰaw- (*ǵʰewh2-) "to call, to invoke" (Sanskrit hūta). Sanskrit hutá = "having been sacrificed", from the verb root hu = "sacrifice", but a slight shift in translation gives the meaning "one to whom sacrifices are made." Thus it can be related to the ancient Indian name Gautam and its Sanskrit roots.

Depending on which possibility is preferred, the pre-Christian meaning of the Germanic term may either have been (in the "pouring" case) "libation" or "that which is libated upon, idol" — or, as Watkins[2] opines in the light of Greek χυτη γαια "poured earth" meaning "tumulus", "the Germanic form may have referred in the first instance to the spirit immanent in a burial mound" — or (in the "invoke" case) "invocation, prayer" (compare the meanings of Sanskrit brahman) or "that which is invoked".

Influence of Christianity

God entered English when the language still had a system of grammatical gender. The word and its cognates were initially neuter but underwent transition when their speakers converted to Christianity, "as a means of distinguishing the personal God of the Christians from the impersonal divine powers acknowledged by pagans."[3]:15 However, traces of the neuter endured. While these words became syntactically masculine, so that determiners and adjectives connected to them took masculine endings, they sometimes remained morphologically neuter, which could be seen in their inflections: In the phrase, guþ meins, "my God," from the Gothic Bible, for example, guþ inflects as if it were still a neuter because it lacks a final -s, but the possessive adjective meins takes the final -s that it would with other masculine nouns.[3]:15

God and its cognates likely had a general, predominantly plural or collective sense prior to conversion to Christianity. After conversion, the word was commonly used in the singular to refer to the Christian deity, and also took on characteristics of a name.[3]:15-16[4]


The word god was used to represent Greek theos and Latin deus in Bible translations, first in the Gothic translation of the New Testament by Ulfilas. For the etymology of deus, see *dyēus.

Greek "θεός " (theos) means god in English. It is often connected with Greek "θέω" (theō), "run",[5][6] and "θεωρέω" (theoreō), "to look at, to see, to observe",[7][8] Latin feriae "holidays", fanum "temple", and also Armenian di-k` "gods". Alternative suggestions (e.g. by De Saussure) connect *dhu̯es- "smoke, spirit", attested in Baltic and Germanic words for "spook" and ultimately cognate with Latin fumus "smoke." The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek te-o[9] (plural te-o-i[10]), written in Linear B syllabic script.


KJV of 1611 (Psalms 23:1,2): Occurrence of "LORD" (and "God" in the heading)

The development of English orthography was dominated by Christian texts. Capitalized, "God" was first used to refer to the Abrahamic God and may now signify any monotheistic conception of God, including the translations of the Arabic Allāh, Persian Khuda, Indic Ishvara and the Maasai Ngai.

In the English language, capitalization is used for names by which a god is known, including "God". Consequently, its capitalized form is not used for multiple gods or when referring to the generic idea of a deity.[11][12]

Pronouns referring to a god are also often capitalized by adherents to a religion as an indication of reverence, and are traditionally in the masculine gender ("He", "Him", "His" etc) unless specifically referring to a goddess.[13][14]

See also


  1. Kroonen, Guus (2013). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-90-04-18340-7. 
  2. Watkins, Calvert, ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Green, D. H. (1998). Language and History in the Early Germanic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521794237. 
  4. god (3rd ed.), Oxford University Press, September 2005,  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. "Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, θεός". 
  6. "Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, θέω". 
  7. θεωρέω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  8. Dermot Moran, The Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena: A Study of Idealism in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press
  9. Palaeolexicon, Word study tool of ancient languages
  10. Palaeolexicon, Word study tool of ancient languages
  11. Webster's New World Dictionary; "God n. ME < OE, akin to Ger gott, Goth guth, prob. < IE base * ĝhau-, to call out to, invoke > Sans havaté, (he) calls upon; 1. any of various beings conceived of as supernatural, immortal, and having special powers over the lives and affairs of people and the course of nature; deity, esp. a male deity: typically considered objects of worship; 2. an image that is worshiped; idol 3. a person or thing deified or excessively honored and admired; 4. [G-] in monotheistic religions, the creator and ruler of the universe, regarded as eternal, infinite, all-powerful, and all-knowing; Supreme Being; the Almighty"
  12.; "God /gɒd/ noun: 1. the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe. 2. the Supreme Being considered with reference to a particular attribute. 3. (lowercase) one of several deities, esp. a male deity, presiding over some portion of worldly affairs. 4. (often lowercase) a supreme being according to some particular conception: the God of mercy. 5. Christian Science. the Supreme Being, understood as Life, Truth, Love, Mind, Soul, Spirit, Principle. 6. (lowercase) an image of a deity; an idol. 7. (lowercase) any deified person or object. 8. (often lowercase) Gods, Theater. 8a. the upper balcony in a theater. 8b. the spectators in this part of the balcony."
  13. The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge. 25 October 2011. ISBN 9780312643027. Retrieved 27 December 2011. "Pronoun references to a deity worshiped by people in the present are sometimes capitalized, although some writers use capitals only to prevent confusion: God helped Abraham carry out His law." 
  14. Alcoholic Thinking: language, culture, and belief in Alcoholics Anonymous. Greenwood Publishing Group. 1998. ISBN 9780275960490. Retrieved 27 December 2011. "Traditional biblical translations that always capitalize the word "God" and the pronouns, "He," "Him," and "His" in reference to God itself and the use of archaic forms such as "Thee," "Thou," and "Thy" are familiar." 

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