My old blog, the Word of the Day, is defunct, and I’m getting ready to take it down. Before I do, though, I’m going to repost some of the best words here over the next few weeks. Enjoy!
In the English-speaking world, America almost always refers only to the United States, even though technically it could refer to North and South America together. The usual etymological story is that America comes from Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian navigator who voyaged to the Americas shortly after Columbus and claimed to have discovered them. His name appeared Latinized as America in a geographical treatise published around that time, and the name stuck. To be fair, Vespucci was the first to claim that the Americas were separate continents, and he was the first to refer to them as Mundus Novus, the New World. Why the cartographer rejected the name Vespucia is unknown, but personally I think we can all be grateful to him for choosing America.
The name Amerigo, by the way, is Italian, but ultimately derived from Gothic Almarich, “work-ruler” (compare German reich, “kingdom”), and is cognate with the English names Emmerich and Emery. Thus America is not originally Latin or Italian, but Germanic.
There are a couple of alternative theories for the origin of America – fascinating ones, if unlikely. One is that America was originally named after a region of Nicaragua called Amerrique, visited by both Columbus and Vespucci, and rich in gold; and that Vespucci actually changed his name from Alberigo to Amerigo to reflect the importance of the discovery. If this is true, then America is not derived from Germanic, but from an indigenous name. Another is that it is named after Richard Amerike, an English financier who may have underwritten the voyages of John Cabot as well as pre-Columbus voyages to North America in search of cod. The name Amerike is an Anglicized version of the original Welsh name ap Meryk, “son of Meryk”; so in this case America is originally a Celtic name!
The sounds in America seem to parallel the history of the United States. The first syllable, “a”, is pronounced “uh” and indicates both freedom and thoughtfulness, and is appropriate for the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. Its primary syllable, “mer”, is similar to the Middle English mere of mermaid, and Latin mare of maritime – the sea – and suggests a manifestation of strength and power, appropriate for the military and economic strength of the United States as it extended its domain across the continent. The next syllable, “ric”, is similar to rich, reach, and Reich, and indicates solidification and containment of power, appropriate to America’s imperial ambitions. The final syllable, “a”, is pronounced “ah”, and indicates a return to Source energy. This corresponds to nothing in America’s history… so far. We can only hope.
Angel is not a word from Proto Indo European; it began as a term in some unknown Asian language, perhaps related to Sanskrit ajira, “swift”. This term was borrowed into Greek at some point — the Greeks had a great deal of commerce with southern Russia, Turkey, and the Middle East — and became both angaros, “mounted courier”, and angelos, “messenger”. When the Bible was written in Greek, angelos was chosen to translate the Hebrew term mal’akh yhwh, “messenger of God”. When the Bible was translated into Latin, instead of using a Latin term for “messenger”, such as cursor or nuntium, the word angelos was borrowed over as angelus. This then descended into English as angel.
The sounds of angel indicate an elastic, spread-out energy that narrows toward a troubled or difficult decision point, before relaxing into a liquid light/air state. The primary stressed syllable (”ang”) carries the focus of the meaning, which is the gathering of the energy to the decision point. Presumably this refers to the action of the angels in guiding their charges through difficult times.
The Greek god of medicine and healing, light, truth, archery, colonists, prophecy, herds and flocks, music, poetry, and the sun. The origin of his name is uncertain, though there are many possibilities — apollumi, “the destroyer”; apolusis, “redeem”; apolousis, “purification”; aploun, “simple” or “unity”; aei-ballon “ever-shooting”; and apella “assembly”. The name may also be from the ancient Hittite diety Aplu, a god of healing, who may in turn have come from the Akkadian sun god Aplu Enlil, whose name meant literally “son of Enlil”, Enlil being one of the chief Sumerian gods. If this is the case, Apollo’s worship goes back to the dawn of Middle Eastern civilization.
Apollo’s name indicates Source energy that expands from a point to fill volume, like light; the result is a grounded, wholesome power.