Immanuel Giel

hamlet– def.

1. a small village in Medieval Europe; 2. the Crown Prince of Denmark in William Shakespeare’s play; 3. future bacon.

So…, what’s in a name?!? Words are funny things. In latter medieval days the Oxford English Dictionary recorded more than 21,800 Old English words in use, many of them amalgamations of Norse, Old English, and Latin. Between 1576 & 1650 an additional 44,500 were included, bringing the total close to 70,000. By the late Renaissance, the number of words had risen above 100,000. By the turn of the 2nd Millennium (1900) the total was closer to half a million. A Millennium later, by January 1, 2012, the OED listed 1,019,729.6 words, excluding scientific, technological, and medical terminologies.

So…, what is in a word? Putting aside prefixes, suffixes, tenses, homonyms, and nuances English is a convoluted language. Chinese may hold the record for number of characters (106,230 in the 2004 Yitizi Zidian Dictionary) but English takes the trophy for confusion. Add to that our postmodern propensity to invent meanings for conventional words on the basis of individual, personal preference and you have one “mell of a hess!”

For one, take cursing. Our media bleeps-out words like f*#k and s@%t, but uses the Name of God and Jesus Christ in profane manners. Our culture can’t even get cursing right! We extricate vulgar language and gloss over genuine blasphemy! Not worth a comment.

Aweful is another example, totally flipped in meaning in just 300 years. Once it referred to the glory and greatness of our God: today, it’s just Awful, meaning really terrible! Diddo.

George Bernard Shaw, (1856-1950) the Irish playwright, once quoted “God created man in His image and then man returned the favor.” The quote is not original with Shaw but his point is palatable. It is also transferable to language—Words evolve imbued with history & meaning; then we change their meanings to suit our fancy. Stephen Colbert’s idea of truthiness comes to mind.

Words do evolve and change in their usage over time, be it 300 years (aweful) or 2 years, “Tweet me.” Redefining words for personal pleasure should not be endured in civil society. Yet, in our postmodern/postChristian societies, we actually encourage the re-defining of words to fit our penchants. When we talk about sin the meaning should be clear. A lie is a lie, not a mis-speaking. Contracts should be written clearly, with NO questions about the meaning of its words.

Sometimes it feels like we’re dredging up the Tower of Babel because it suits our predilections.

For what it’s worth, [Whatever that means to you.]


quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur


Language has played a multidimensional role in human history. Ever since Babel, confusion and cultural divisions have reigned. Today’s whole field of cross-cultural communications has expanded to indispensable proportions. Language has both united us and divided us every bit as much as ideology. In our day we have the convenience of instant written and vocal translation devices. Yet in Western culture we oft fall back on our mother tongue, Latin, to accentuate a point.

Acta non verba– Action, not words; the motto of the U.S Merchant Marine Academy is used across the English speaking world. From Aesop we received alterius non sit qui suus esse potest– Let no man be another’s who can be his own. Author John Steinbeck, told he would be a writer when pigs flew, tagged all his subsequent works with Ad astra per alas porci- to the stars on the wings of a pig. And of course, amor vincit amnia– love conquers all. [Ah, FTL. (That’s yet another language.)]

The English language is steeped in Latin roots. –dict- to say, as in dictation; -ject- to throw, as in project or eject; -port- to carry, as in import or support. Then there are the myriad of prefixes and suffixes. Latin all! Words just sound more, well, correct, in Latin.

But seriously, erudition aside, what is the point? Unless you are presenting a paper at a medical college, or lecturing at an international theological or ornithology gathering, Latin may otherwise be out-of-place. The issues at stake in any human intercourse are clear communication, with personal integrity and individual trustworthiness. If these three elements are not present, phrasing a thought in another language will do little to give it legitimacy.

Of all the parts language has played in human history, no role is more important than clear, honest, communication. Thus, for what it’s worth, in Latin or English, this challenge remains for each of us— Do we mean what we say? Or do we use words to conceal a part of the truth? Do we twist what is true, what is wholly true? Or do we use words to shield us from reprimand for wrong-doing? In Truth, are we being at least honest? Latin erudition can disguise our fear only so far.

Oh, the title of this emPulse translates “whatever has been said in Latin seems deep.”