Yesterday I had a beautiful day, discovering the meaning of worship. After dropping my daughter off at Bristol, where she’s coming to the end of her Masters there in Economics, I swung via Stonehenge. If you can believe it, in all my 62 years on the planet, specifically in England, I’ve never been to Stonehenge. It was great. Rather than paying the [what I consider rather exorbitant] 25 quid to get in, I just walked along the public footpath that takes you within 100 metres of the stones. That was good enough for me.
It’s really a truly inspiring place (even apart from the weather yesterday, which was stunning). 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, 4500 to 5000 years ago, in 2500 BC, as a site of deep spiritual, astrological and astronomical significance.
You probably know this, but the heel stone, main Portal and the altar are aligned on both the mid-winter and the mid-summer solstices. In fact, the mid-summer solstice is coming up in the next few days on the 21st of June. Can you imagine the sophistication, ingenuity and calculations required to get that alignment right, year in year out, for millennia? That’s pretty phenomenal. I was in awe.
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?
Let’s start with the meaning of worship.
The Writing Guy looks at the meaning of ‘worship’
According to the etymology online website, the word worship comes from the Old English or West Saxon word weorðscipe. It means ‘the condition of being worthy’. It also means dignity, glory, distinction, honour or renown. The sense of paying reverence, or 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, from around the 13th or 14th century).
So that’s worship. The condition of being worthy, or of having value.
The Writing Guy looks at ‘adore’
Next, I looked up adore, which I think I’m right in saying comes from aouren, meaning to worship, pay divine honors to, bow down before. It comes 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 adoration when we’re praying to somebody or something. You are praying or speaking to it, in order to be granted some kind of desire or wish.
The meaning ‘to honour very highly’ is attested as coming from the 1590s, whilst the additional meaning of ‘to be very fond of’ is a relatively recent addition from the 1880s.
The Writing Guy defines ‘venerate’
Finally, we have venerate. 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. Venus means beauty, love or desire. You can see again, we venerate, we respect something that we love and we find beautiful.
Even further back in time we find the Proto Indo-European root, wen-, which means ‘to desire or strive for’. That’s where we get words like venereal (as in venereal disease) and venery, which is an old word for hunting. I guess if you’re pursuing the object of your affection, they’re you’re ‘quarry’, just as you might pursue a stag or deer. Venial, which I think means mercenary, says 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 it’s all related.
Musings on the meaning of worship
Those are my musings. I hope they’re of some interest—spurred, stimulated and inspired by my stunning afternoon yesterday at Stonehenge.
Thanks very much for joining me here, for the meaning of worship, roused by Stonehenge. I’m Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, helping smart professionals to find their voice, write Human and change the world with their words. I invite you subscribe to this blog, as well as to The Writing Guy podcast.