Good Friday and Easter

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Reader Elaine Peters wonders if the word “Good” in “Good Friday” has anything to do with the word “God,” pointing out that the English “good-bye” is a shortened version of the once common expression “God be with ye.”

The word “goodbye” is the result of running words together until they’ve dwindled into a compressed version of the original.

The English words good and god, however, are not related.

Both stem from Indo-European roots.

The word god meaning “deity,” is thought to come from a word meaning “that which is invoked.” Or, It could come from a different Indo-European word meaning “to pour” as in the pouring of a libation.

The word good, meaning “having a desirable quality,” comes from a Proto-Indo- European base word with the meaning “to unite, be associated, suitable.”

Like the word “nice,” “good” can be used in so many contexts that it is probably a word to be avoided by careful writers. For example, good can have the following meanings:

prosperous: He makes a good living.
beneficial: Spinach is good for you.
welcome: The doctor gave him good news.
fertile: The land isn’t very good in this area.
attractive: Actors must have good looks.
genuine: This money is not good.
advantageous: I got a good deal on this couch.

Among the many meanings of “good” are virtuous, moral, and wise. One of the meanings of the word holy is “infinitely good.” From such meanings come the expressions “the Good Book” and “Good Friday.”

To call the day of the crucifixion of Jesus “Good Friday” could seem a little perverse, but seen from the perspective of Christian belief, the day marks the salvation of mankind and the triumph over death. For that reason it is called “Good” Friday in the Christian calendar.

The Christian use of the word Easter for the religious celebration of the passion and death of Christ is one of those ironies of linguistic history.

The word Easter derives from the name of an ancient Germanic goddess of fertility and sunrise, Austron. Her feast was celebrated at the spring equinox. Anglo-Saxon converts to Christianity adopted the name and, according to the Venerable Bede, some of the practices of the old worship for their Mass of the Resurrection as well.

The word east derives from the same word as does the name of the goddess.

The German word for Easter is similar: Ostern, but most European languages use words derived from Medieval Latin pascha:

French: Pâques
Dutch: Pasen
Italian: Pasque
Spanish: Pascua
Portuguese: Páscoa*
Russian: nacxa [pass-kha]*
(with thanks to Andre, Andriano, and Alexey)

The Latin word come from a Hebrew word which passed into Aramaic as pasha and from there into Greek and Latin. William Tyndale, translating the Bible in 1530, translated Hebrew pesah as “pass over.”

During the Middle English period, some writers used the word Pasche for Easter, but the pagan word is the one that has survived into modern English.

Even though English speakers use Easter as the name of the festival, they do have an adjective, paschal, that has the meaning “of or pertaining to Easter.”

One of my family traditions was the eating of the “Paschal Egg” on Easter morning. We cut one of our colored eggs, usually a purple one, into four pieces, one for each member of the family.

I suppose that an Easter egg hunt could be referred to as a paschal event.

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13 thoughts on “Good Friday and Easter”

  1. Actually, Russian does NOT use “Easter” or derived words: the Russian for Easter is пасха, pronounced pass-kha. I can look up where it comes from, but most probably it’s the same source as used in Italian and Spanish.

  2. Just a correction: the Portuguese word for “Easter” is “Páscoa”, from the same Latin root as the words used in other Neo-Latin languages.
    I know that usage because I am Brazilian.
    Check also those Brazilian Portuguese dictionaries:
    “Páscoa (etim.) lat. pascha,ae fem. (pascha,átis neutro) ‘páscoa’, decalque do gr. indeclinável páskha, este tb. decalque do heb.; passado às línguas român. sob a infl. cruzada do lat. pascùa ‘pastagem, pasta’; ver pasc(o)-; f.hist. sXIII pascoa, sXIII pascua, sXIII pasqua” (Dicionário Houaiss)
    “páscoa [Do hebr. pesach pelo gr. Páscha, pelo lat. cláss. Pascha.]” (Dicionário Aurélio)
    “Páscoa: Do lat. pascha” (Dicionário Aulete)

  3. Great post. This is good news concerning the word “good,” and I think it’s good if I stopped using it so much. 😉

    I never knew that the word Easter was based on a deity. I’m happy to know that. This will definitely stir up a good conversation in church.


  4. There is a relationship between the two words. It is one of pronunciation. One of my family names is Goodwin which in its earliest form is spelled Godwin. I assume from this that the more recent spelling conveys how the earlier one was pronounced.

  5. In Portuguese we haven’t adopted the word Easter. The portuguese word for the holiday is Páscoa.

    Best regards

  6. Thanks for the corrections.

    I should have gone further than my desktop translation widget for my examples from Russian and Portuguese. It gave “Easter” as the translation for both lanugages. If I use this article elsewhere, I’ll make the corrections.

    In fact, if no one objects, I’ll change the examples in this article. (I always hesitate to change a post since published is published.) What do you readers think?

  7. No objection whatsoever.

    By the way, I would like to tell you that I love your website (and your newsletter), I find it extremely useful.

    Awesome work!

  8. Alice,
    Pronunciation is a shifting creature.

    In Old English there were two words spelled god:

    god meaning “good” was pronounced with a long o sound, like the one in Modern English goad (rhymes with toad).

    god meaning “deity” was pronounced with the vowel in Modern English ought [aw].

    All that one can assume about the spelling “Goodwin,” I think, is that it represents the sound of the name in the ear of the person who first wrote it that way.

  9. that was a nice piece of article. as they say learning is a continous process. i have learnt alot please keep it up.

  10. Eastern Orthodox Christians (of the various jurisdictions) in English-speaking countries use the name PASCHA for Resurrection Day, though we sometimes informally call it Easter.

    I believe the day is officially called the Feast of the Resurrection in Anglican (Episcopal) Churches, and I think this is also true in the Roman Catholic Church, and in other liturgical churches.

    I notice that you’re several hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Saving Time. Are you located in the UK or elsewhere in Europe?

    Incidentally, why do people say “Daylight Savings Time”? Does it come from the habit of talking about a savings bank, savings plan, etc.?

    I’m so glad I found this terrific website. EUREKA! (I read the section on Greek words.)

  11. The form of address for our Eastern Orthodox bishop is “Your Eminence,” and he’s spoken of formally as “His Eminence.” This type of language is unfamiliar to many Americans because we’re not accustomed to speaking to royalty or nobility, and we’re sometimes awkward in using it. We do call a judge “Your Honor,” but I think this is sometimes misused, also.

    The new secretary of a church organization sent out minutes just the other day in which she referred to the Bishop in the third person, first as “our Eminence,” and later as “the Eminence.” She may be a convert like me. I’d appreciate your comments on the rationale behind these indirect terms of respect, and some general rules about their use.

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