Easter

n.

1. A Christian feast commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus.
2. The day on which this feast is observed, the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or next after March 21.
3. Eastertide.

 

Rabbit on a pillar; entrance to St. Michael’s chapel
from St. Mary’s, Beverley, Yorkshire c. 1330

That seems straightforward enough. It gets a little less straightforward when we start looking at the etymology behind the word Easter.

This much we are reasonably sure of; Easter is derived from Middle English ester, itself derived from Old English ēastre. There’s a very clear Proto Indo-European root there; *aus-, “to shine.” Derivatives of *-aus included east, Easter, and Aurora, as well as the name of the Greek dawn goddess, Eos.

You will see a fair number of people stating that Easter is derived from the name of a pagan goddess named Eostre, or Ostara. Despite urgent and repeated assertions from Neo Pagans, Easter is not Celtic, nor is there a fertility goddess represented by the rabbit named Eostre, nor is she a moon goddess; the fact that the word Easter begins with the word east suggests that, if anything, a solar influence is more probable.

We don’t have solid evidence for an English deity named Eostre. All we have is a brief almost off-hand reference by the Venerable Bede (c. 672–735) in his De temporum ratione, a Latin treatise on the calendar from a Christian perspective. In chapter 15 Bede describes the native English names of the month, and cites the worship of the English goddess Hretha, during the month of Hrethmonath (literally, Heretha’s month). Bede then describes a goddess associated with the vernal equinox, and calls her Eostre (Northumbrian dialect of Old English equivalent to Éastre).

We don’t have other references to Eostre in earlyEnglish but it seems most likely that, like other Indo-European deities whose names descend from *aus-, Aurora, and Eos, Eostre is a dawn goddess, if in fact Bede is even correct in his assertion that the name of the month was also that of a goddess. Note, by the way, that all the references to an *aus– cognate deity are Germanic, Latin, or Greek; none are Celtic.

Now, it is interesting that English, unlike French or a number of other related Indo-European languages, uses Easter for a Christian feast, rather than a name derived from the Hebrew word for Passover; remember, Christ essentially substitutes the Last Supper for Passover, or Pessach. French Pâques is cognate with Hebrew Pessach, for instance.

The Language of Baseball and English Idiom

A picture of a night game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Dodger Stadium, August 13, 2011 Credit: Adam_sk

Foolish me; I had been planning for some time to welcome the Springtime return of major league baseball with a bit about the ways the language of baseball in the form of baseball idioms has crept into ordinary American English.

I’m far too late to the pitch. There’s a wikipedia article already. Even the OED got to first base before me.

There are books about the language of baseball; Ryan Gray’s The Language of Baseball: A Complete Dictionary of Slang Terms, Cliches, and Expressions From The Grand Ole Game. And there’s a book (and a website) by Paul Dickson about the signs used to signal plays used by catchers, pitchers, coaches and even players (at bat or in the field); The Hidden Language of Baseball: How Signs and Sign-Stealing Have Influenced the Course of Our National Pastime.

Nonetheless, because I love the way baseball has embedded itself so very thoroughly into American English, I’m going to talk about a handful of words and phrases. Bear in mind that while I love baseball, I’m not a player or even an expert fan; these are not in depth explorations, and there are at least fifty more idioms that while derived from baseball, are used in ordinary American English.

Off base I can’t actually prove that off base meaning “badly mistaken” derives from baseball, but I suspect it originally referred to a player who was not on base (that is the player was between or near a base, but not physically touching it), and could therefore be rendered “out” by a ball thrown by the pitcher or an outfielder. The OED does seem to agree with my hypothesis though.

Out of left field Left field, as the AHD notes, refers to

a. The third of the outfield that is to the left, looking from home plate.
b. The position played by the left fielder.

Something “out of left field” has come to mean “A position far from the center or mainstream” (AHD s.v. left field). If you’re standing at Home plate, it can be difficult to see what’s going on in the left, so players can be surprised.

Flied The Conventional past tense form of the verb to fly is flew. But in baseball, when describing the action of a fly ball that a batter hits (“A ball that is batted in a high arc, usually to the outfield”) it’s correct to use the form flied as the past tense and past participle for “To hit a fly ball” as in this bit from Vin Scully’s last broadcast for the Los Angeles Dodgers1 (emphasis mine):

Romo ready, fouled out by Rob Segedin, who flied out to right field in the seventh inning.

Filibuster

According to the official U.S. Senate Glossary a filibuster is an

Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.

According to the AHD, a filibuster:

  1. a. The obstructing or delaying of legislative action, especially by prolonged speechmaking. 
  1. b. An instance of this, especially a prolonged speech.
  1. An adventurer who engages in a private military action in a foreign country.

Etymologically the English word filibuster derives from Dutch vrijbuiter, “pirate” via Spanish filibustero, or “freebooter”; the Spanish borrowed the word from French flibustier, who in turn derived their word from Dutch vrijbuiter.

English also derives our word freebooter “A person who pillages and plunders, especially a pirate” from Dutch vrijbuiter. Dutch vrijbuiter derives from from vrijbuit, plunder, a compound of vrij, free; (see prī- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots) + *buit, booty (from Middle Dutch būte, of Middle Low German origin).

The Proto Indo-European root * prī- “To love” is interesting; in addition to giving us Dutch vrij, prī- derivatives include friend, and Friday.

The record for the longest filibuster in the U.S. Congress is still held by Strom Thurmond’s 1957 24 hours and 18 minutes grandstand attempt to stop the Civil Rights act. You can read it, in all its shameful glory, in the Congressional Record Vol. 103 pt. 12: August 22 1957–August 30, 1957. .

April from the Très Riches Heures

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

In this book of hours calendar image for April from the Très Riches Heures of Jean Duc du Berry (Musé Condee MS 65 F4v) one of the typical seasonal pastimes (or labors) is depicted; gathering flowers. But the primary emphasis of the scene is on the couple in the foreground exchanging rings in a betrothal ceremony, with what might be the young woman’s parents looking on (various attempts have been made to associate the portraits with real people). To the right two women are picking flowers. In the background on the right fruit trees in an orchard are blooming, and beyond that on the lake fisherman are using seining nets to fish. The chateau in the background was another of the Duke’s estates, the Château de Dourdan, in Essonne France.
The most typical depictions in April calendar images from books of hours are scenes of planting, pastoral scenes in general. They often feature courting couples or people picking or holding flowers or blooming branches.