Sunday, April 30, 2006


Bead and Patter

Laura Gibbs at Bestiaria Latina Blog continues her series of word histories, with posts on innuendo, reticule, and prayer.

Concerning prayer, she writes:
It is always interesting to see when words, especially fundamental words, in a religious vocabulary are borrowed from another language, as opposed to finding some kind of native equivalent.
Actually there was a native English equivalent for prayer, but it was ousted by the Latinate word. See Ernest Weekley, The Romance of Words (1911), chapter 6:
A part of our Anglo-Saxon church vocabulary was supplanted by Latin or French words. Thus Anglo-Sax. ge-bed, prayer, was gradually expelled by Old Fr. preiere (prière), Lat. precaria. It has survived in beadsman--
"The beadsman, after thousand aves told,
For aye unsought-for slept among his ashes cold."
                    (KEATS, Eve of St Agnes.)--
beadroll and bead, now applied only to the humble device employed in counting prayers.
Cf. German Gebet = prayer. For an example of gebed, see Luke 6.12 (Vulgate erat pernoctans in oratione Dei, Old English Wæs wacigende on Godes gebéde, modern English [He] continued all night in prayer to God, German Er blieb über Nacht in dem Gebet zu Gott).

Another English word connected with praying is patter. The Online Etymology Dictionary gives the derivation:
"talk rapidly," c.1400, from pater "mumble prayers rapidly" (c.1300), shortened form of paternoster (q.v.).
Pater noster are the opening words of the Lord's Prayer in Latin (Our Father).

Update: More on this subject at Bestiaria Latina Blog.

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