The Etymology of the word God

One of the strongest beliefs I hold is that the original form and meaning of a word contains the most accurate depiction of that word. I believe that the spark humanity contains of divinity is seen most clearly in our unique ability to use language. While animals can communicate with each other, language is unique to humans.  For that reason, I believe that the original form of a word contains the purest meaning. In a word’s original form, no dilution has taken place. As a species, we have a tendency to redefine words to suit our purposes, and the meaning of a word can morph.

While I’ve done research on the etymology of the names of a handful of the Norse Gods, I have never researched the etymology of the term “God.” Perhaps because it seemed to me like the meaning should be clear – a God is a deity, and a deity is a divine being. In retrospect, those are concepts that I intuitively understand, but what a God actually is has always been open to interpretation.

So I decided to look into the etymology of “God” and I found a few interesting articles.

The following excerpt comes from https://wahiduddin.net/words/name_god.htm

Oddly, the exact history of the word God is unknown.

All that we know for certain is that the word God is a relatively new European invention, which was never used in any of the ancient Judeo-Christian scripture manuscripts which were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Latin.

This situation is quite remarkable, since there is a long history of people arguing and fighting over the name of God, yet we don’t even know where the word came from!

According to the best efforts of linguists and researchers, the most common theory is that the root of the present word God is the Sanskrit word hu which means to call upon, invoke, implore.

Nonetheless, it is also interesting to note the strong similarity to the ancient Persian word for God which is Khoda (or Khuda).

I find it fascinating to learn that the word God was never used in any of the original Judeo-Christian scriptures. That implies that the word God isn’t Judeo-Christian in origin, which is intriguing (and ironic), considering how synonymous the term God has become with the Judeo-Christian theology.

Seeing that the most common theory about the etymology of God being the Sanskrit word hu, meaning “to call upon, invoke, or implore,” is interesting because it’s verbal in nature. If a God can be defined as a process, that makes exploring the nature of a God much more complex.

The other theory mentioned was that the word God is very similar to the Persian Khoda/Khuda.

The etymology of Khuda is as follows:

The term derives from Middle Iranian xvatay, xwadag meaning “lord”, “ruler”, “master” (written as Parthian kwdy, Middle Persian kwdy, Sogdian kwdy, etc.). It is the Middle Iranian reflex of Avestan xva-dhata- “self-defined; autocrat”, an epithet of Ahura Mazda. The Pashto term Xwdāi (خدای) is a New Iranian cognate.

There isn’t enough evidence in support of this theory for me to view it as being the best one to invest in – from what I could gather, the term Khuda is synonymous with the word God as it is used today, but research into its etymology shows no direct link between the word khuda and the word God.

Turning back to the potential etymology for the word God, I went to the Etymology Online Dictionary, which is a great place to begin any research into the etymology of a word.

Old English god “supreme being, deity; the Christian God; image of a god; godlike person,” from Proto-Germanic *guthan (cognates: Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch god, Old High German got, German Gott, Old Norse guð, Gothic guþ), from PIE *ghut- “that which is invoked” (cognates: Old Church Slavonic zovo “to call,” Sanskrit huta- “invoked,” an epithet of Indra), from root *gheu(e)- “to call, invoke.”

But some trace it to PIE *ghu-to- “poured,” from root *gheu- “to pour, pour a libation” (source of Greek khein “to pour,” also in the phrase khute gaia “poured earth,” referring to a burial mound; see found (v.2)). “Given the Greek facts, the Germanic form may have referred in the first instance to the spirit immanent in a burial mound” [Watkins]. See also Zeus. In either case, not related to good.

Popular etymology has long derived God from good; but a comparison of the forms … shows this to be an error. Moreover, the notion of goodness is not conspicuous in the heathen conception of deity, and in good itself the ethical sense is comparatively late. [Century Dictionary, 1902]

Originally a neuter noun in Germanic, the gender shifted to masculine after the coming of Christianity. Old English god probably was closer in sense to Latin numen. A better word to translate deus might have been Proto-Germanic *ansuz, but this was used only of the highest deities in the Germanic religion, and not of foreign gods, and it was never used of the Christian God. It survives in English mainly in the personal names beginning in Os-.

I have to admit that I have a fondness for etymological dictionaries, as they are much more reliable sources than common dictionaries due to how much research must go into every term.

Since the Sanskrit word huta has been mentioned before, let’s start by taking a look at the fact that the word huta is an epithet of Indra.

Indra is the supreme God of the Vedic Gods. He is a war God born to a sky God and an earth Goddess. According to this article, Indra is a Hammer God, which closely relates Him to Thor.

What I am seeing through the lens of etymology is that the term God comes from the Sanskrit huta, (as it is the most supported theory via research from what I have been able to gather), and that the term huta refers to Indra, one of the first Gods of the Vedic religion – a polytheistic religion that predates Hinduism.

In essence, the word God can be traced directly back to one of the oldest Gods of one of the oldest polytheistic religions in the world. That, to me, is a fascinating truth.

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