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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Mon Mar 21, 2005 10:58 pm

• sacrilegious •

Pronunciation: sæ-krê-li-jês

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Profaning or desecrating that which is held to be sacred.

Notes: This word is especially good at trapping even the best of spellers. Despite the obvious semantic relation, today's Word History shows that this word is wholly unrelated to religious. This explains what seems to be the metathesis (switch) of the E and I: sacrilegious vs. religious. Today's word comes from sacrilege "desecration, profanation", not religious!

In Play: In most religions it is considered sacrilegious to ustter the name of the deity. In fact, it might be sacrilegious to play around with this word but let's see what we can do with it: "It is considered sacrilegious to mention the name of a competitor's product in our office." In the world of sports, members of the all-male Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Golf Tournament, still think the admission of women to the club is sacrilegious. Or so it would seem.

Word History: Today's is yet another word from Latin via French, this time from sacrilegus "someone who steals sacred things", a compound based on sacer "sacred" + legere "to pick out, collect" (and, later, "count, speak"). The meaning of the PIE root *leg-/*log- roves over a broad semantic spectrum: "pick, collect" (Latin lignum "firewood, that which is collected"), "speak, word" (lexicon), "read" (legible), and "law" (legislature). "Read" and "speak" are trivially related, since reading was often done aloud in the past. The leap from "word" to "law" is quite curious, though: was law seen as a collection of things or as The Word, as the law of God is seen? What do you think?
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Postby Flaminius » Tue Mar 22, 2005 2:50 am

I think this etymology represents higher status of the written over the spoken rules in Roman jurisprudence. Rules remain mores as long as they are part of the unwritten culture. One may get sanctioned for breaking those rules but this is done at social level, not administrative level. However, once the king, the senate and the curia approve to instate a written, and thus formal, law, the breach thereof is liable to criminal prosecution.

What do you think?

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Postby tcward » Tue Mar 22, 2005 8:02 am

This is one of those words that I always have to pause and think about how to spell. I'm always tempted to spell it SACRELIGIOUS.


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Postby gailr » Tue Mar 22, 2005 1:19 pm

Writing and reading are "magical", and originally reserved for the scribal caste (conveniently affiliated with the local religious caste). Think of Yul Brynner imperiously intoning, "So let it be written. So let it be done." in The Ten Commandments. The obvious link between "written" and "scripture" creates interesting tensions in a more secular (e.g.: "sacrilegious") society. See also I read banned books.

I agree with Flam; once something is written, it becomes "real" to people. Perhaps because one may go back and check the record, rather than relying on memory? This dependence has given rise to the saying, "don't believe everything you read".

What one views as a sacrilegious action another may see as liberation, as in the desecration of local holy sites or objects by foreign mercenaries and/or missionaries.

Then there is Titian's famous painting, Sacred and Profane Love, in which Sacred is the nude and Profane is the clotheshorse. Such iconoclastic takes on western social mores may be seen as sacrilegious by archconservatives, no matter what time period they are created in.


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Postby KatyBr » Tue Mar 22, 2005 1:35 pm

tcward wrote:This is one of those words that I always have to pause and think about how to spell. I'm always tempted to spell it SACRELIGIOUS.

Perhaps it is spelt thus, because it gets folks all riled up?
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