Stonehenge-inspired words of worship (podcast transcript)


Hi there and welcome to episode 147 of The Writing Guy podcast. I’m Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, helping smart professionals to find their voice, write Human and change the world with their words.

The wonder of Stonehenge

So yesterday I had a beautiful day. After dropping my daughter off at Bristol, where she’s coming to the end of her Masters there in Economics — having dropped her off on the way back to London, I swung via Stonehenge. And, if you can believe it, in all my 62 years on the planet, specifically in England, I’ve never been to Stonehenge before, and it was great because rather than paying the what I consider rather exorbitant 25 quid to get in, I just walked along the public footpath and that takes you within 100 metres, 75 metres of the stones, which was good enough for me.
And it’s really a truly inspiring place, apart from the weather yesterday, which was stunning. And it wasn’t that crowded either, an added bonus, and, you know, it’s an incredible monument and a World Heritage Site. It was built, they estimate, 4,500, 5000 years ago, 2500 BC, a site of deep spiritual, astrological and astronomical significance.

You probably know this, but the heel stone and the main Portal and the altar are aligned on both the mid-winter and the mid-summer solstices, and the mid-summer solstice is coming up in the next few days on the 21st of June. Can you imagine the sophistication and ingenuity and the calculations required to get that alignment right, year in year out, for millennia, is pretty phenomenal and I was in awe. I was awe-struck.

As you might expect of The Writing Guy, it got me thinking about language connected with Stonehenge and sites of spiritual significance. So, what is the origin of words like worship, reverence, veneration and adoration? Where do they come from.

The Writing Guy looks at ‘worship’

So just to look at worship, to begin with. According to the etymology online website that word comes from Old English word weorðscipe. Again, forgive my Old English pronunciation. It’s not what it was. If you’re an Old English scholar, please come and correct me. I’d be delighted to stand corrected by somebody who really knows their stuff. But yeah, so weorðscipe comes from West Saxon or Old English, it’s ‘the condition of being worthy’. Also meaning dignity, glory, distinction, honour or renown. The sense of paying reverence, revering a supernatural divine being, is first recorded in about 1300, as is the first use of it also meaning an honourable person, as in the Worshipful Company of Glovers, the Worshipful Mayor of London, comes from about the 13th, 14th century. So that’s worship. The condition of being worthy, of having value.

The Writing Guy looks at ‘adore’

And then I looked up adore, which I think I’m right in saying comes from aouren, to worship, pay divine honors to, bow down before, from Old French aorer and before that the Latin, adorare, which is composed of two root words: the prefix, ad-, meaning to or towards, and orare, to speak formally to or pray. So, that’s where we get the idea of when you pray to somebody or something you’re adoring it, because you are praying or speaking to it, in order to be granted some kind of desire or wish. And the meaning ‘to honour very highly’ is attested as coming from the 1590s and the additional meaning of ‘to be very fond of’ is a relatively recent addition from the 1880s.

The Writing Guy looks at ‘venerate’

And then venerate. So, this word comes from Latin veneratus, the past participle of venerare, to revere or worship, which in turn comes from veneris, the genitive form of venus; you can hear the root of the word venerate. Venus means beauty, love or desire, so you can see again, we venerate, we respect something that we love and we find beautiful. And then even further back in time we go back to the Proto Indo-European root, wen-, which means ‘to desire or strive for’. That’s where we get things like — this has to do with sexual pleasure as well — so that’s where we get words like venereal as in venereal disease; venery, which is an old word for hunting. I guess if you’re pursuing — in the same way you might pursue the object of your affection — you also pursue a stag or a deer, you know, your ‘quarry’. Venial, which I think means mercenary, you know you’re in love with money. Venom comes from that as well. Winsome, somebody who’s attractive and wish comes from wen- as well. It’s something that we desire, we wish for something. So that’s all related.

So there’s some musings. I hope they’re of some interest — spurred and stimulated and inspired by my stunning afternoon yesterday at Stonehenge. Thanks very much for listening. I hope that was interesting, and I’ll see you tomorrow for episode 148. I’ll see you then. Bye now.

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