george_hancockstefanA couple of weeks ago we were told by Paul J.J. Payack from the Global Language Monitor that the English language has welcomed its one millionth word. The capstone of the English language is a reflection of our advanced technological time. The new word is Web 2.0.

The meaning of this new word is, “the next generation of web products and services, coming soon to a browser near you.”

I have had a fascination with the English language since I had to learn it when I was 15 years old. This was after I had learned Romanian as my maternal language, Serbo-Croatian as the language needed to advance in school and education, and French as the language of European culture. Currently my best language is English. The uniqueness of the English language was that we had to learn the language by spelling it. The difficulty of spelling was well-known by others such as noted American author Mark Twain. He wrote that if you want to know how to spell a word, ask a foreigner because while you may not understand because of his accent, he will be the best source of the correct spelling.

Twain’s wise comment was observed again when a teenager named Kavya Shivashankar won the 2009 Scripp’s National Spelling Bee with the word Laodicean. Oddly enough, if you have watched the program this was one of the easier words that the students had to handle.

What created surprise for me and many others was Charlie Gibson’s comment on the ABC News that he did not recognize the word, nor did he think that he has ever heard it before the spelling bee. Now, I consider Charlie Gibson a part of the intelligentsia whose vast reading should have covered the Bible. Laodicean is one of the biblical words found in the book of Revelation. The last of the seven churches in the Bible was the Laodicean Church which because of its lukewarmness or indifference in spiritual matters would be cast out by the Lord.

Biblical words are not in the vernacular anymore. Willimon, the former chaplain and dean of spiritual development at Duke University and currently a Methodist Bishop, wrote that many people have asked him not to preach using certain words. In fact, someone sent him a list of words that he should not use such as salvation, justification, sanctification, etc. This was in well-established contrast with the fact that the translation of the Bible in a new language is always an expansion of that language.

When I studied at Wheaton College with hundreds of foreign students I remember one night in which we were trying to figure out how we feel when we say the same words or ideas in different languages. It was a highly stimulating intellectual evening because in that group that night many students spoke at least five languages. However, for my wife who is monolingual, the best story is a time when I preached with a translator at our former church in Chicago. I preached in English and my friend translated in Romanian. In one instance for emphasis I said something in Romanian. My translator switched to English and for the rest of the sermon I preached in Romanian and she translated in English as though nothing has happened. At that time both of us knew that we achieved a level of academic success in our speaking abilities of both languages.

Language impacts us greatly, but it is difficult to pin down due to its constant evolution. I believe that language and languages greatly enrich us. We have a wonderful opportunity to better both our conversation and our knowledge by learning words both widely-known (Web 2.0) and obscure (Laodicean).

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Rev. Dr. George Hancock-Stefan

George Hancock-Stefan

Pastor George Hancock-Stefan completed 30 years as the pastor of the great congregation at Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands in 2020. Those 30 years have been a blessed time for him, his wife...