Printable Version
Pronunciation: gray-vên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Carved, engraved on a surface, as 'graven in stone'. 2. Sculptured, hewn, carves, as 'a graven image'. 3. Fixed indelibly in the mind, as 'graven on memory'.

Notes: Graven is the past participle of the seldom used verb grave "dig, excavate; to engrave, carve into a surface". It is obviously related to the noun grave as well as to the adjective grave. More light will be shed on the semantics of its broad family in Word History.

In Play: Graven is endowed with the mustiness of words often ignored, preserved only in compounds and idioms. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament include this one: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." Anything firmly fixed may be described as graven: "Just because a rule is unspoken doesn't mean it isn't graven in stone".

Word History: Graven comes from Old English grafan "to scratch, dig, carve, chisel". Between two vowels F was pronounced [v] in Old English. It is cousin to Dutch graven "to dig, mine", German graben "to dig", and Danish gravere "to engrave". All these words were begotten by PIE grebh-/grobh- "to scratch, dig", also the origin of English groove. Swedish grava "to bury" went into the making of gravlax "raw, seasoned, thinly sliced salmon", from the ancient process of burying it while ageing. The English noun grave originally meant "trench". Gradually, it came to focus on things we find in graveyards, a grave subject, indeed. In Greek it emerged as graphein "to write". Writing was originally gravened on wood or stone. English borrowed this word as graph, and as combining forms -graph in paragraph and photograph, and -graphy "description" in geography and biography. (Gratitude today is due George Kovac, who has made a graven impression on this series with his discussions in the Agora and suggestions of outstanding Good Words like today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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