Read “Lederer on Language” every Saturday in the San Diego Union Tribune and on this site.
Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

Eight days ago, Peter Gold, a 25-year-old medical student at Tulane University in New Orleans, stopped his car when he saw a man forcibly dragging a woman to another car. When Gold got out of his automobile and tried to help the victim, the criminal shot him in the stomach. The media immediately dubbed Gold, who is recovering from his wound, a Good Samaritan.

Good Samaritan is a reference to a parable of Jesus found in the Gospel of Luke 10:30-37. In the story, a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by thieves and left by the side of the road half dead. A Samaritan came upon the victim and pitied him, binding up his wounds and taking him to an inn to recover.

The word bible derives from the Greek biblical, which means “books.” Indeed, the Bible is a whole library of books that contain many different kinds of literature – history, narrative, short stories, poetry, philosophy, riddles, fables, allegories, letters and drama.

The 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament compose the champion best-seller of all time. Translated into more than 2,000 languages, the Bible is available to about 80 percent of the world’s people and outsells all other popular books. While the spiritual values of the Bible are almost universally recognized, the enduring effect of the Bible on the English language is often overlooked. In truth, a great number of biblical words, references and expressions have become part of our everyday speech, so that even people who don’t read the Bible carry its text on their tongues.

Here is a sampling of biblically inspired words:

• talent. In ancient times, a talent was a unit of weight, and this weight of silver or gold constituted a monetary unit, one that figures prominently in a famous parable of Jesus: “For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability.” (Matthew 25:14-15). The most common modern meaning of the word talent – some special, often God-given ability or aptitude – is a figurative extension of the parable.

• maudlin. In Mark 16:9-10, we read, “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first before Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that she had been with him, and they mourned and wept.” Medieval and Renaissance painters portrayed a tearful Mary Magdalene so sentimentally that, over the years, her name was transformed into the word maudlin, which now means “tearfully sentimental.”

• shibboleth. In the Book of Judges 12:5-6, we learn about a conflict between the peoples of Gilead and Ephraim: “And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites; and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; then they said unto him, Say now shibboleth.” Because the Ephraimites didn’t have the sh sound in their language, they could not pronounce the word correctly, and 42,000 of them were slain. That’s how the word shibboleth, originally “ear of corn,” has acquired the meaning that it has today: a password, catchword, or slogan that distinguishes one group from the other.

• testify. You may be surprised to learn that the Old and New Testaments of the Bible include testicles. The Latin for “witness” being testis, the testaments testify (“bear witness”) to God’s truth. Testis is the same root that yields protest, “to bear witness for”; detest, “to bear witness against”; and contest, “to bear witness competitively.”

In Latin, testiculi

meant “little witnesses” because that part of a man’s body testified to the bearer’s virility. Men once placed their hands on their nether region to swear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Witness Genesis 24:2, 3 and 9: “And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all he had, Put. I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, And I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell.”