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Author Topic: Interesting Trivia
RickyB
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Without looking, googling or wikiing, what are the etymological origins of the following magic-associated phrases:

Hocus Pocus

Abra Kadabra

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Pyrtolin
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Abra Kadabra is from the Middle East, I really want to say that is has something to do with Zoroastrianism, but I don't recall that much clearly.
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RickyB
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Close, but no stogie.

Ok, hints: For Hocus Pocus, Carlotta and Paladine, among others, should have an edge here. [Smile]

For the second, Lisa and Hannibal. [Big Grin]

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AI Wessex
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No fair, it's like asking a carpenter to hammer a nail with his fist! I think hokus pokus is just mumbo jumbo. Abracadabra is used to invoke a power to transform the magician's object into something else. I suppose that it could be derived from some mystical force or mythical person, but its rhythm and cadence are intoned in a way that is mesmerizing, so it probably is also concocted.
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RickyB
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Nope. Both have solid etymological bases. Both stem from real, non mumbojumboish phrases in certain languages.

I will reveal the answers around this time tomorrow if nobody does before that, and no cheating ye scurvy bastids!

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ken_in_sc
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Hocus Pocus comes from church Latin, it is a play on words from the mass.

Abracadabra comes from Arabic and has to do with necromancy dealing with a cadaver.

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RickyB
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Ken gets points on one of two if he can elaborate on said wordplay.

The second one is not Arabic, but is close (Hebrew, as is clear from my reference to Lisa and Hannibal). It also has nothing to do with cadavers.

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Aris Katsaris
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I believe I read somewhere that "Avada Kedavra" is actually the real-life original form of "Abracadabra", and that it literally means something like "Let the thing be destroyed" (where the 'thing' is some disease or curse, so the phrase was written on protective amulets that called for the disease's/curse's destruction).

I have no clue about hocus pocus, but I'd have guessed that it was a play on "hokey" and "pox", like saying "fake curse".

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RickyB
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That's not what it means, and is not exactly the right words. :-)

Ken sounds like he knows what Hocus Pocus is.

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DonaldD
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Aris' theory sounds like something out of Harry Potter. Seriously.
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TomDavidson
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Aris' theory is something out of Harry Potter; it's where J.K. Rowling (somewhat incorrectly) thought "abracadabra" came from.

I'm not playing because I knew these already. But Ken is right, and Aris (via Rowling) is very close.

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by RickyB:
Close, but no stogie.

Yeah, looks like it was "alakazam" that I might have been thinking about, and even that appears to be a near miss.
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ken_in_sc
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I think Hocus Pocus has something to do with the transformation of the 'host' into the flesh of Christ during the Mass.
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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
Originally posted by DonaldD:
Aris' theory sounds like something out of Harry Potter. Seriously.

Yes, I did mention 'Avada Kedavra' explicitly, as the Harry Potter term which I thought had referenced the real-life thing; I thought that was understood.

It was probably a JKR interview or the HP encyclopedia that I got (my now seemingly false) information from. I don't remember where exactly I read it.

[ May 31, 2011, 10:01 AM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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starLisa
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I don't need a hint. אברכה דברא is one proposed etymology for Abra Kadabra. So are עברא כדברא and אברא כדברא. All three are Aramaic; not Hebrew. Do you know of an actual Hebrew etymology?
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Wayward Son
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I recall hearing that "abracadabra" comes from Latin, meaning "open corpse." Supposedly, cutting open a corpse would release the soul, which could be used for magical purposes.

Of course, that may have come from some fundamentalist Christian site that embraces anything bad about magic, mysticism and such (all being distractions from the True God, of course). [Wink]

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DonaldD
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Ricky and Lisa - completely separate trivial question for you: do your keyboards show both English and Hebrew script characters, or are you just really excellent touch typists in multiple languages?

Alternatively, do you physically swap keyboards when necessary? [Wink]

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HimuraKenshin
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Actually after sometime you get so used to it that you don't need the other language's script on the keyboard.
And for those of us who really find it hard there are always phonetic keyboard layouts (which is how I manage Russian. Their keyboard layout makes a person go insane! ;-) )

-HK

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RickyB
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Sorry, Lisa is right. The etymology is more accuratley Aramaic (although it can work in Hebrew as well, as both words exist in both). And it's the third one Lisa proposed that's correct.

As for keyboards - keyboards in Israel are sold showing both english and Hebrew characters for each key, and keyboards with three characters on each key (Hebrew, English and Arabic or Russian) are also available. the one I'm using right now has cyrilic characters on it. After a while you don't really need them.

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RickyB
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Ok boys and girls...

Hocus Pocus is a bastardization of "Hoc Est Corpus" - "Here is the body (of Christ)", which is what the priest says at the Eucharist, transubstantiating the wafer into the body of Christ.

Abra Kadabra is a (much slighter) bastardization of "Evra Kedabra" - "I create as I speak" in Aramaic (In Hebrew the same formula would be "Evra Kedabri"). In Judaism and in Hebrew or Aramaic as a language, words create (God spoke, and there was). There is of course an aspect of that in Christianity as well (In the beginning there was the Word...). Kabbalah is big on the mystic powers of words. There's a whole sub-field of Kabbalah called "The Power of the Word".

On a scale of 10 points per complete answer, Ken from SC gets 5 points, which still beats the field. [Smile]

Thanks for playing!

(Full disclosure - I just learned the Hocus Pocus one myself this week. The other I've known for years).

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Viking_Longship
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In Russia you can buy little stickers to attatch to an English keyboard with the Cyrillic letters attatched. I would presume you can do that with Hebrew as well.

I have language software that can pop up a little image of a keyboard if you are changing alphabets and it will show you where the letters are and highlight them when you type.

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AI Wessex
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Uh...

I spent some quality time online and with my shelf of etymological dictionaries after giving my answer yesterday. The result is that I'm going to invoke the awesome power of the spirit Mumbo-Jumbo to claim that your explanations for the origins of both terms are just folk etymologies. Neither term can be definitively traced back its true origins.

The "hoc est corpus" derivation of hocus-pocus can be traced back to one man, John Tillotson, who off-handedly gave that explanation in a sermon (1690's) where he tried to tie his flock's affinity with superstition and magic to the supernatural power of Christ. There are numerous citations that debunk the basis for that and give alternate histories, including that Hocus Pocus was the name of an itinerant magician in the early 1600's (before Tillotson), while other sites suggest they are just nonsense syllables. I'm inclined to go with the nonsense explanation.

As for abracadabra, there are about 4 different so-called sourcings. One of the most common is that it is a corruption (or derivation) of Abraxas, a Gnostic God with Greek or Egyptian origins that some believed was an earlier incarnation of the Christ myth. Intoning the God's name could (magically) invoke his power or protection. Another attributes it to Aramaic roots for casting out of disease. Others attribute it to the sources cited by others above. I lean toward Abraxas, but it hardly matters since the usage is so divorced from whatever its earliest source might have meant.

The real etymologies of words are sometimes a mystery, and others, like the etymology of the word "mystery" are not less interesting for being very certain. Ever wonder why some medieval pageants or reenactments of Christ's crucifixion were called "Mystery Plays"?

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RickyB
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Al: The itinerant magician could have, I would argue surely did, get his name from the same source. After all, "Hoc Est Corpus" was one of the most familiar bits of Latin to anyone in Western Christiandom.

As for "Aramaic roots for casting out of disease" - show me. Which roots and what do they mean?

As for Abraxas - Evra Kedabra is far more similar to Abrakadabra than Abraxas. Why not just say "Abraxas"? It's wierd-sounding enough [Smile]

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AI Wessex
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Like I said it's uncertain, but here are some examples (there are several others that are similar):

(1): ab·ra·ca·dabra (ab′rə kə dab′rə)

noun
* a word supposed to have magic powers, and hence used in incantations, on amulets, etc.
* a magic spell or formula
* foolish or meaningless talk; gibberish

Origin: LL, prob. of Balkan orig., but assumed to be < LGr Abraxas, cabalistic name of the almighty God

===============

1. A magical charm or incantation having the power to ward off disease or disaster.
2. Foolish or unintelligible talk.

Origin: Late Latin, magical formula.

Word History: “Abracadabra,” says the magician, unaware that at one time the thing to do with the word was wear it, not say it. Abracadabra was a magic word, the letters of which were arranged in an inverted pyramid and worn as an amulet around the neck to protect the wearer against disease or trouble...

----------
Or,

Magical word used in certain Gnostic writings, relation to Greek Abraxas, a Gnostic deity.

It may also be a corruption of the Aramaic term עַבְדָא כְּדַברָא, avda kedavra; “what was said has been done”; or perhaps, עברא כדברא, avra kedavra; “what has said has come to pass.”

It may also be the combination of three hebrew words ארבע-אחד-ארבע when it is read from right to left [1] .

The Aramaic is the source of the Avada Kedavra killing curse in the Harry Potter books.

------------

This site discusses it in terms of its letter origins:
quote:
While it seems logical that Abracadabra is from Aramaic, the word and root do not appear in Biblical Aramaic, Talmud or other early Aramaic or Hebrew sources.Language is hardly 100% logical. Joshua Trachtenberg in, Jewish Magic and Superstition (New York, 1974) says that certain words come to assume occult virtues by reason of descent from potent charms. The potency is hidden in its syllables.
...
The medieval magician could have been using a word that sounded magic and had no idea what it orig[i]nally meant. My conclusion that no one knows the exact origin of abracadabra, is based on a commentary by Rashi (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah page 22a) quoted by Trachtenberg, "The sorcerer whispers his charms, and doesn't understand what they are what they mean, but ... the desired effect is produced only by these incantations."

I also looked at Klein, Weekley and Webster (1828), among other books on my shelves, and all give similar but varied derivations. Perhaps it is derived from the first four letters of the Phoenician alphabet (700BC), perhaps it comes from the Basilidians in Egypt (Aramaic 2C AD), perhaps from Syria (3C BC). I'm not saying you're wrong; I'm saying you're not necessarily right because the term is so ancient that it probably bounced around over the millenia.

As for hocus-pocus, my copy of the Compact OED says they are nonsense words used by the magician of that name as part of a nonsense incantation. Wikipedia says the OED attributes the words to a different liturgical phrase, but not Tillotson's. It seems that everyone agrees that the term wasn't known before the magician used it, so how well known an earlier source was can't be trusted. It is cited numerous times in the 1600's by the OED, which is probably where Tillotson got it from and then performed a little magic of his own to tie it to his own interests. Again, I'm not saying that you are necessarily wrong to tie it to Hoc est Corpus, but it's just as likely that it's not anything more than a folk explanation.

[ June 01, 2011, 03:38 PM: Message edited by: AI Wessex ]

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RickyB
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"1. A magical charm or incantation having the power to ward off disease or disaster.
2. Foolish or unintelligible talk.

Origin: Late Latin, magical formula."

Like I said, that one isn't related to Aramaic. [Smile]

Avada Kedabra also works. Doesn't make too much difference. Kabbalah was big in medieval Europe. Alchemists thought it might contain what they needed.

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AI Wessex
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That was one of the suggested sources, but enough. I can whisper a magic word and I will henceforth disappear from this thre....
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starLisa
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quote:
Originally posted by DonaldD:
Ricky and Lisa - completely separate trivial question for you: do your keyboards show both English and Hebrew script characters, or are you just really excellent touch typists in multiple languages?

Alternatively, do you physically swap keyboards when necessary? [Wink]

Actually, a month or two ago, I did put stickers on my keyboard. I thought it might make a difference. Turns out I pretty much touch type in Hebrew anyway. Not as fast as English, of course, but still.

I use Windows XP, and I have Hebrew installed. Which means that I can hit left alt + right shift to change between Hebrew and English. It's useful.

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starLisa
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quote:
Originally posted by AI Wessex:
Like I said it's uncertain, but here are some examples (there are several others that are similar):

(1): ab·ra·ca·dabra (ab′rə kə dab′rə)

noun
* a word supposed to have magic powers, and hence used in incantations, on amulets, etc.
* a magic spell or formula
* foolish or meaningless talk; gibberish

Origin: LL, prob. of Balkan orig., but assumed to be < LGr Abraxas, cabalistic name of the almighty God

===============

1. A magical charm or incantation having the power to ward off disease or disaster.
2. Foolish or unintelligible talk.

Origin: Late Latin, magical formula.

Word History: “Abracadabra,” says the magician, unaware that at one time the thing to do with the word was wear it, not say it. Abracadabra was a magic word, the letters of which were arranged in an inverted pyramid and worn as an amulet around the neck to protect the wearer against disease or trouble...

----------
Or,

Magical word used in certain Gnostic writings, relation to Greek Abraxas, a Gnostic deity.

It may also be a corruption of the Aramaic term עַבְדָא כְּדַברָא, avda kedavra; “what was said has been done”; or perhaps, עברא כדברא, avra kedavra; “what has said has come to pass.”

It may also be the combination of three hebrew words ארבע-אחד-ארבע when it is read from right to left [1] .

The Aramaic is the source of the Avada Kedavra killing curse in the Harry Potter books.

------------

This site discusses it in terms of its letter origins:
quote:
While it seems logical that Abracadabra is from Aramaic, the word and root do not appear in Biblical Aramaic, Talmud or other early Aramaic or Hebrew sources.Language is hardly 100% logical. Joshua Trachtenberg in, Jewish Magic and Superstition (New York, 1974) says that certain words come to assume occult virtues by reason of descent from potent charms. The potency is hidden in its syllables.
...
The medieval magician could have been using a word that sounded magic and had no idea what it orig[i]nally meant. My conclusion that no one knows the exact origin of abracadabra, is based on a commentary by Rashi (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah page 22a) quoted by Trachtenberg, "The sorcerer whispers his charms, and doesn't understand what they are what they mean, but ... the desired effect is produced only by these incantations."

I also looked at Klein, Weekley and Webster (1828), among other books on my shelves, and all give similar but varied derivations. Perhaps it is derived from the first four letters of the Phoenician alphabet (700BC), perhaps it comes from the Basilidians in Egypt (Aramaic 2C AD), perhaps from Syria (3C BC). I'm not saying you're wrong; I'm saying you're not necessarily right because the term is so ancient that it probably bounced around over the millenia.

As for hocus-pocus, my copy of the Compact OED says they are nonsense words used by the magician of that name as part of a nonsense incantation. Wikipedia says the OED attributes the words to a different liturgical phrase, but not Tillotson's. It seems that everyone agrees that the term wasn't known before the magician used it, so how well known an earlier source was can't be trusted. It is cited numerous times in the 1600's by the OED, which is probably where Tillotson got it from and then performed a little magic of his own to tie it to his own interests. Again, I'm not saying that you are necessarily wrong to tie it to Hoc est Corpus, but it's just as likely that it's not anything more than a folk explanation.

When there's a Hebrew etymology, even when it's a very obvious one, most traditional English dictionaries prefer a far fetched one that comes from elsewhere. Honestly. I mean, if the x in Abraxas was pronounced like a guttural, which it isn't, it might be close. But honestly, that's a huge stretch.

Look up the etymology of the word earth, btw. If your dictionary is anything like mine, it'll give you some cockamamie Indic source. When it's a simple transliteration of the Arabic ardh, and its Hebrew cognate eretz.

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AI Wessex
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*poof* how did I get back here?!?

"...it'll give you some cockamamie Indic source. When it's a simple transliteration of the Arabic ardh, and its Hebrew cognate eretz."

My sources mostly suggest that the origin of abracadabra is either Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek (by way of Egyptian or Syrian Arabic roots). What exactly are you arguing with me about? Is it that you have a grudge against Abraxas?

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DonaldD
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quote:
I use Windows XP, and I have Hebrew installed. Which means that I can hit left alt + right shift to change between Hebrew and English. It's useful.
I used to have Dvorak keyboard set up; I can't tell you how often I fat fingered the alt and shift keys while typing at pace. It's a bit like dropping down into reverse instead 4th gear at highway speeds, but for your brain.
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RickyB
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"If your dictionary is anything like mine, it'll give you some cockamamie Indic source. When it's a simple transliteration of the Arabic ardh, and its Hebrew cognate eretz."

Which may not be unconnected, but in any event the word earth in various forms existed in Indo-European languages long before they could have reasonably be expected to pick it up from either Hebrew, Arabic or Aramaic (in which it sounds less similar... Ar'aa).

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remlind
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quote:
Originally posted by RickyB:
"...but in any event the word earth in various forms existed in Indo-European languages long before they could have reasonably be expected to pick it up from either Hebrew, Arabic or Aramaic (in which it sounds less similar... Ar'aa).

Ricky, where do you suppose the Indo-European people came from?

They could "have reasonably been expected to pick it up from either Hebrew, Arabic or Aramaic because they originally were Hebrew, Arabic or Aramaic.

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AI Wessex
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They weren't the first people, nor the first people to have language. Sumerian was much older than Hebrew and PIE (Proto-Indo-European) is the name applied to what is considered to be the common ancestor of most languages throughout the region. The word earth is traced back to the PIE root er-, for instance. The Semitic languages supposedly comprise a family that developed from PIE and split into a separate branch even before Sumerian writing (~5th millenium BC).
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RickyB
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"Ricky, where do you suppose the Indo-European people came from?

They could "have reasonably been expected to pick it up from either Hebrew, Arabic or Aramaic because they originally were Hebrew, Arabic or Aramaic."

No, they weren't. They came from the valley of the Indus, not the valley of the Jordan. [Smile] Where do you get your info from?

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remlind
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Ricky, from the Bible, where do you get your info from?

Al, they absolutely were the first people, they just weren't known by that term prior to Abraham.

As for what was the first language, I cannot say with any factual evidence other than to guess it would be Hebrew. Since I am sure God taught Adam and Eve how to talk/write, who would have passed it down, then it would stand to reason that the language He taught them would have endured.

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RickyB
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"Ricky, from the Bible, where do you get your info from?"

Actual scientific research. Where in the bible does it say that indo-Europeans came from the Middle East or ever spoke Semitic languages?

"Since I am sure God taught Adam and Eve how to talk/write, who would have passed it down, then it would stand to reason that the language He taught them would have endured."

A) who told you God taught Adam and Eve to write? Where does it say that he did or that they ever wrote? Not only do you go by the bible, you go by "stands to reason" extrapolated from the bible? Really. The first biblical person who even extra-biblical tradition describes as writing is Enoch. Plus, you seem to be ignoring the story of the Tower of Babel.

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DonaldD
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Ricky, since remlind believes in the literal 6-day creation timeline, indo-europeans, just like everyone else, must be descended from Adam and Eve.

The only question concerns the initial language that Adam and Eve spoke.

[ June 02, 2011, 11:58 AM: Message edited by: DonaldD ]

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AI Wessex
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Ah, I forgot that you are a Creationist. That means PIE isn't real for you, right? Will you entertain the possibility that it not only could have existed, but that it predated the language in the book of Genesis?

And why do you think Adam and Eve could write?

[ June 02, 2011, 12:01 PM: Message edited by: AI Wessex ]

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RickyB
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"Ricky, since remlind believes in the literal 6-day creation timeline, indo-europeans, just like everyone else, must be descended from Adam and Eve.

The only question concerns the initial language that Adam and Eve spoke."

Nope. Even if Adam and Eve spoke Hebrew, that still doesn't mean the post-Tower Indo Europeans did. If you take the story literally, you have to assume (and this IS implied in the text) that God confused their languages beyond the natural slow and slight mutations that make neighbor languages semi-comprhensible to one another.

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TheRallanator
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quote:
Originally posted by DonaldD:
Ricky, since remlind believes in the literal 6-day creation timeline, indo-europeans, just like everyone else, must be descended from Adam and Eve.

The only question concerns the initial language that Adam and Eve spoke.

Well if we're going to put our Young Earth Creationist hats on then the language of Adam and Eve is presumably lost to history forever and completely irrelevant in any discussion about the roots of words, since it's safe to assume that it was lost forever when God laid down a linguistic smite on mankind for building the Tower of Babel).

Personally I won't be putting my YEC hat on though, since I doubt that Creationist linguistics holds up well to academic scrutiny.

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