Words, Words, Words (Again) (3)

Because of my fascinati0n with words, returning to them in my blog is to be expected. So here we go again:

I’ll start with fatwa. Pronounced FAHT-wah, the word is not in my standard Merriam-Webster dictionary. According to Oxford Languages, it means a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority. Another meaning, from the Urban Dictionary, is an irreversible death penalty or bounty placed on an individual, especially for betrayal of one’s peers. The most famous current example is the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, on February 14, 1989, ordering Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie for the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses. The fatwa against Rushdie was probably the reason for the recent knife attack against him that left him hospitalized, on a ventilator, and likely to lose an eye. “Fatwa” comes from the Arabic root “f-t-y,” whose meanings include youth, newness, clarification, and explanation.

Next is tchotchke, pronounced “CHOCH-key.” It means a small object that is decorative rather than functional, such as a trinket. A second meaning is a pretty girl or woman. The word comes from the Yiddish “tshatshke,” of the same meaning, and ultimately from a now-obsolete Polish word, “czaczko.”

That brings us to scofflaw, one who scoffs at the law. “Scofflaw” was the winning entry of a nationwide competition to create a new word for “the lawless drinker,” with a prize of $200 in gold, sponsored by Delcevare King, a banker and enthusiastic supporter of Prohibition, in 1923.

And now ahem. It’s pronounced “ah-HEM” and refers to a deliberate clearing of the throat to get the attention of others.

That leads to ahmen or amen, a word we have been using unchanged since the days of Old English, the earliest form of the English language spoken and written in Anglo-Saxon Britain starting about 450 AD. The word’s origin is in Hebrew. It means “truly.” The only usage I know for it in modern English is to end a prayer. That leads to the expression, “Amen to that,” indicating strong agreement. I know of two ways to pronounce the word, ay-MEN and ah-MEN. Because of my Latin background, I prefer the latter pronunciation.

That’s enough—maybe too much—for one day. More next time.

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