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music / / poetry / / philosophy / / -ology by Nick Courtright

Archive for Etymology

Words on a Word: The Problematic “God”

urizen.jpgCould it be the most important word? The most misrepresented? Do dictionary definitions necessarily imply a personable or human-like God? Something tied to mythology or free of story-telling? What does the Random House Unabridged Dictionary have to say?

God noun, interjection

verb: god·ded, god·ding

[Origin: before 900; Middle English, Old English; c. D “god”, G “Gott”, ON “goth”, Goth “guth”]


1. the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe.

2. the Supreme Being considered with reference to a particular attribute: the God of Islam.

3. (lowercase) one of several deities, esp. a male deity, presiding over some portion of worldly affairs.

4. (often lowercase) a supreme being according to some particular conception: the god of mercy.

5. Christian Science. the Supreme Being, understood as Life, Truth, Love, Mind, Soul, Spirit, Principle.

6. (lowercase) an image of a deity; an idol.

7. (lowercase) any deified person or object.

Or how about these noun definitions, from The American Heritage Dictionary?:

1. A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.

2. The force, effect, or a manifestation or aspect of this being.

–verb (used with object)

1. (lowercase) to regard or treat as a god; deify; idolize.


1. (used to express disappointment, disbelief, weariness, frustration, annoyance, or the like): God, do we have to listen to this nonsense?

First record of “Godawful” is from 1878; Godspeed” is from c.1470; “God-fearing” is attested from 1835; “God bless you” after someone sneezes is credited to St. Gregory the Great, but the pagan Romans and Greeks had similar customs.

Not surprisingly, the dictionary study is inconclusive and partisan towards a monotheistic creator-based interpretation. And there’s little doubt that this is the most prevalent view of God in America, therefore making that definition valid. But this “definitive” approach is indeed primarily Western, what with the puppeteer and deterministic connotations of the word “ruler.” Also, referring to”God” as a “Being” implies something quantifiable. But of course, all of this can be argued on any number of semantic and philosophical levels. Like, God, do we have to listen to this nonsense?

Information from various original sources compiled here. William Blake, who last week turned 250, is responsible for the image of Urizen, who represented the creator in Blake’s own sprawling cosmology.