Monday, March 2, 2015

Whence Lent?

Christians of a certain stripe—mostly Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Orthodox, and a few others—are now in the midst of Lent, the season of forty days preceding Easter that is devoted to prayer, fasting, and charitable works. In the Romance languages the word for Lent alludes to the forty days, based on the Latin quadragesima, which means “fortieth.” In Italian Lent is Quaresima, in French it’s Carême, and in Spanish Cuaresma.

Germans get right to the point and call the season Fastenzeit, “fasting time.”

The etymology of Lent in English is more complicated. The word cropped up in the fourteenth century, as a shortened form of Lenten, which derived from Old English lencten, meaning “springtime.” The root of lencten is West Germanic langatinaz, meaning “long days,” referring to the coming season’s increasing daylight.  

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou thought he might give up versifying for Lent, but he came to realize that too many penitents rely upon reading his poetic detritus as atonement for their sins (when self-flagellation is not considered severe enough).

                        There was a devout Christian gent
                        Who quit smoking and drinking for Lent,
                                     But he ate so much fudge he
                                     Grew terribly pudgy,               
                        Which was certainly not his intent.
                        He decided he'd keep one bad habit,
                        Despite pleas from a priest and an abbot,
                                    So now he rejects
                                    All that junk food for sex,                              
                          And he's thin--but he acts like a rabbit. 

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