Monday, February 2, 2015

Dangerous Words

Some accounts of the horrific assassinations at Charlie Hebdo in Paris referred to that satirical journal’s irreligious cartoons, which touched off the murderous barbarity, as “blasphemous.” Others said they were “sacrilegious.” What’s the difference?

Sacrilege means the “violation of or injury to a sacred object, person, or idea.” It was first noted in English around 1300 and derives from the Latin sacrilegium, meaning “temple robbery.” Its roots are sacrum (“sacred object”) and legere (“take”). It took on the broader meaning of “profaning anything sacred” by the late fourteenth century. (The second part of the adjective sacrilegious has nothing to do with the word religious, although many people think so and consequently misspell it.)

Blasphemy is a kind of sacrilege, specifically verbal, meaning “speaking ill about God or sacred things.” Its root is the Latin blasphemia and Greek blasphemos. The Greek word is formed from blaptikos (“hurtful”) and pheme  (“utterance”). The word entered English in the early 1300s.

If sacrilege is specifically physical, involving the destruction, damage, or theft of sacred objects, it is often called desecration, formed from de- (“do the opposite”) and “consecration” (“making holy”).

And, incidentally, in case you haven’t come across it elsewhere, the name Charlie Hebdo originated in the character of Charlie Brown in “Peanuts” comic strips, which were initially a regular feature of the magazine, plus hebdo, an abbreviation of hebdomadaire, which is French for a “weekly publication.”

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is following the prudent lead of Will Rogers, who, after satirizing Democrats, Republicans, and several other groups in his comic routine, remarked: “And then there’s the Ku Klux Klan (long pause)—you ain’t gonna catch me tellin’ no jokes about them.”

            I could make irreverent jokes
            About the poor benighted folks
            Whose creeds and violent acts convulsive
            I find repugnant and repulsive,
            I could be very funny--but            
            I think I’ll just keep my mouth shut.

No comments:

Post a Comment