Word of the Week: Soteriology

As I note in the latest issue (#4) of The Butter Lamb News, I really blew it in the "new additions to the Butter Lamb Reference Library" department over the past few months. It wasn't for a lack of trying, I just didn't come across anything that grabbed me. Well, over the past few days, I took some steps toward remedying that. Since April 1, I've acquired four new dictionaries for BLRL's collection, plus a few texts about the lexicography world.  

Among the four dictionaries I picked up was a book called "2000 Most Challenging and Obscure Words." (No, I didn't miss an article there, there's no "the" in the title. Whatever ....) I have to say, I'm a sucker for books like this. I have a few already and I always seem to find room for more. There's something inside me that just has to know what these challenging and obscure words are! Apparently, I'm not alone ... and part of a long tradition.

Compilations of difficult words are nothing new. Philetas of Cos in ancient Greece (b.c. 320 B.C.) produced such a work, known in English as "Miscellaneous Difficult Words," consisting of a collection explaining rare words found in Homer and certain dialects, and technical terms. His pupil. Zenodotus of Ephesus (b.c. 325 BC), the first head of the celebrated Library of Alexandria, wrote a Homeric glossary, known in English as "Difficult Words." He was responsible for a great innovation: he listed his entries in alphabetical order! Aristophanes of Byzantium (c. 257-180 BC-- not to be confused with the earlier Aristophanes, c. 445-c. 385 BC, the foremost writer of Greek comedy) became head of the great library c. 194 B.C and followed up with an exhaustive compilation bearing the simple title "Words" that included, in addition to obscure terms from poetry, difficult words from prose writings as well. This book follows a tradition established a very long time ago.

So what makes up a challenging or obscure word, for as you and I well know, "challenging" is a subjective term. Mr. Schur puts it as follows, and to be fair, his take wasn't what I expected.

There are more than 400,000 words in today's unabridged dictionaries supplements appear from time to time. They include entries like you, me, it, is, to, how, why, etc.--words that are part of every English-speaking person's vocabulary--and others like abelmosk, benzopbenone, boloblastic, leptoprosopic, mylobyoideus, zingiberaceous, words that, a thousand to one, you'll never run into except perhaps in word games, and can live without. In between there is a third lot: words not in common use, but ones you may well run into.

Within this third lot, there are certain groupings: words based on the names of people, real (Lucullan, gerrymander, jeremiad, Roscian) or fictional (Gargantuan, Pantagruelian, rodomontade), or on place names, geographical (brummagem) or literary (Brobdingnagian, Lilliputian); others that have been taken over intact from foreign languages (a cappella, birouac, bravuru, chiaroscuro, legerdemain, louche, nous, tzigane, Zeitgeist) The majority by far, though they owe their origin in the main to classical Latin and Greek, are perfectly good English words that might lurk around any corner of literature, waiting to jump out and perhaps puzzle you, and therefore challenge you. Hence the title of this book.

Okay, fair enough. And where, you may be asking, did Mr. Schur find these challenging words? He tells us that too.

 My criteria in the selection of the 1,000 words have necessarily been subjective, They are, without exception, words that I have come across myself, words that have challenged me by giving me pause or somehow exciting my interest and inviting investigation. I have not resorted to plucking words out of dictionaries.

Wait, 1,000 words? Doesn't the title say 2,000? Whatever. The important thing is to know that, while lounging on the couch in the BLRL reading room (ha, ha), I was struck by the idea that I should share these challenging words with y'all in a Word-of-the-Day type format because, so far as I can tell, that's what dictionary-related websites do. Of course, a word of the day kinda thing might be too much for me (I'm only one man ....) So, I've settled on a Word of the Week. Here's the first one. Prepare to be challenged!

Soteriology (su teer ee OL uh jee) n. As a general term, soteriology is a discourse on health and hygiene, but in Christian theology, it is the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ. In Greek, a soter is a delivery or savior, and soteria is safety, salvation, or deliverance. Soter, in Greek religion, was an epithet of Zeus, Poseidon, and other gods. Ptolemy I (c. 367-285 B.C, king of Egypt 323-285 BC.), known as Ptolemy Soter, was given that surname, meaning "Preserver," because he forced the Macedonian King Demetrius I (c. 337-283 BC) to raise the siege of Rhodes in 304 B.C Saint Sofer was pope from c. 166 to 175. Whether they know it or not, today's born-again Christians are practicing soteriology.

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