Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Laying It On the Loin

A friend recently asked if I knew the origin and precise meaning of to gird one’s loins, meaning to “prepare for action or for strenuous activity.”

The phrase appears frequently in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. In Exodus  the Lord tells Moses and Aaron how to eat the Passover meal: “And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand.” The Lord tells Job: “Gird up thy loins like a man.”

Almost any material could be used for girding. In I Kings the defeated Syrians “girded sackcloth on their loins” before begging for mercy. In II Kings Elijah is described as “an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins.”  Jeremiah is told: “Go and get thee a linen girdle, and put it upon thy loins.” Daniel has a vision of man “whose loins were girded in fine gold.” 

Gird, derived from Old English geard (“yard, or enclosure”) and Latin hortus (“garden”) means “encircle or bind with a flexible material.” More often than not, it refers to wrapping something around the waist, either for protection or to hold in unwanted flab. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck says “I’ll put a girdle about the earth in forty minutes.”

As for the loins, derived from Anglo-French loigne (“loin’), they are primarily defined as “the parts of a quadruped on each side of the spinal column between the hip bones and the false ribs.” In the human body this is the area within which are contained the reproductive organs, so that by the 16th century the loins referred specifically to the genitalia and, by extension, to a person’s source of physical strength and generative power.

Thus, to gird one’s loins, then, means both:
            1) to cover those parts of the body that modesty would demand, and
            2) to protect those parts as the source of reproduction.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou’s loins are perpetually girded, since he never knows when he may have to spring into action.

            Her rebuke was was sharply worded
            To the handsome young Apollo:
            “You, sir, keep your distance!”

            For she knew his loins were girded
            And she feared that he would follow
            The loin of least resistance.

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