• tabernacle •
tæ-bêr-næ-kêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A moveable dwelling or booth, a tent, a hut or lean-to. 2. (Tabernacle) A sacred moveable structure (tent) in which the Israelites transported the Ark of the Covenant. 3. (Tabernacle) A container or niche in a church or temple that holds holy objects, relics, or the Sacraments of the Eucharist. 4. A large church, a cathedral or temple.
Notes: Today's Good Word is another word most of us have the wrong idea about, probably because its meanings range wildly from the pedestrian to the sublime. Following the definitions above, you can see how it began referring to a tent, then came to mean the tent of the Ark of the Covenant, from there it went on to mean the location of things holy, from there to a permanent temple and, finally, to a cathedral. The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles celebrates the Israelites' life in tents during their 40 years in the wilderness. You have your choice of adjectives: tabernaculous or tabernacular.
In Play: It may be too late to resurrect the original meaning of today's word but, since it remains in all dictionaries, let's at least keep it in mind: "Perhaps I should have said, 'Bring only what will fit in your tent' rather than 'what will fit in your tabernacle'." Today the most famous tabernacle is the Mormon Tabernacle, whose fame rests on its excellent choir. However, in The Scot Abroad, John Burton wrote as late as 1864: "Some of them...would as soon have sought Kamschatka, as a place wherein to pitch their tabernacle and pursue their fortune."
Word History: Today's Good Word was copied rather transparently from Latin tabernaculum "tent", a diminutive of taberna "hut". English also borrowed the descendant of taberna from Old French as tavern. The original root was trob-/treb- "dwelling". This root came to English as throp and, with metathesis, thorp " village, hamlet", which is found today in names like Oglethorp and Burnham Thorp, the birthplace of Lord Horatio Nelson, victor at the Battle of Trafalgar. The German and Dutch derivatives of the same underlying word are Dorf and dorp, both of which mean "village".
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