• homily •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A morally edifying sermon to inspire a congregation, as opposed to a more philosophical message on theological doctrine. 2. A platitude, a short expression of an uplifting nature. 3. A tedious and probably insincere tirade on morality.
Notes: The arrival of Pope Benedict in the US has cast a spotlight on today's Good Word. He is, of course, a seasoned homilist who homilizes often. Recently, however, the meaning of this word has taken a turn for the pejorative (the same direction as sermon). Today both these words metaphorically imply tedious, self-righteous moralizing.
In Play: When referring to the activity of the Catholic Church, today's word is taken quite seriously: "Pope Benedict delivered a homily to a crowd that filled the Washington Nationals baseball stadium yesterday." Unfortunately, this word is more often used sarcastically these days: "Foster Grant gave me a five-minute homily on the evils of alcohol while trying to maintain his balance after a three-martini lunch."
Word History: The ancient Proto-Indo-European language, from which most European and South Asian languages evolved, had a word sem- "(as) one". This word wandered through the Germanic languages, coming to English as same. In Latin it became semper "always", as in the US Marine Corps motto, semper fi(delis) "always loyal". That is also it in simul "at the same time", underlying English simultaneous. In Greek, however, initial S usually became H, so it appears in that language as homos "same", as in homogenize. (We see the same shift in Greek hemi- "half" versus Latin semi- "half".) This adjective is the base of homilos "crowd", a oneness of many. A discussion with a crowd then was a homilia in Greek, a word Latin borrowed without much change. English, as is its wont, adapted the Latin word for its own purposes, changing the meaning to that of today's Good Word.
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