1/27/08

Why not saying "Jesus" is silly

There are Jews in this world who are punctilious about not mentioning the names of others' (putative) gods. The verse [Exodus 23:13] they mention to support this practice includes the words לא ישמע על פיך, which is to say "[the name of other gods] should not be heard from your mouth." But these particular punctilieurs are careful not to mention these names even when such a mention could not possibly be interpreted as approval (much less worship) of these religious figures! Yes, there are people who really won't say the names Jesus, or Zeus, or (I guess) Zemu, and use made-up names like "Simcha [not Santa!] Monica."

That this is silly is well-known, but the reason has always been hard for me to articulate: until now. Language Log does a nice job dissecting the use-mention distinction.

2 comments:

  1. If this prohibition were more widely known, don't you forsee a huge prank potential here? I can imagine 10,000 people or so, organized over the net, each deciding to "worship" a God named after a common English/Hebrew/whatever word....

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  2. Hashem is Magic2:47 PM

    You are using modern theories of language about usage.
    Rabbinic Judaism, as well as Ashkenaz Jewry, has a magical theory of language where invoking a word automatically brings its power. Mentioning an shed or demon invokes it- even if the goal is to warn again it.
    The Rabbinic theory of blessings, curses, and language is about articulation not intention.
    It works even now to say the name of a Chasidishe rebbe – brings his zechus.

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