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The shortest history of hatred: Part 1

It would be unwise to leave the topic of emotions (see the posts on anger, dreadand fear), without saying something about hate and hatred. Although hate refers to intense dislike, it is curious to observe how diluted the word has become: today we can hate orange juice, a noisy neighbor, even our own close relative, and of course we hate not finding the objects we have mislaid. For some reason, to dislike, have little regard for, and resent are not enough for expressing our dissatisfaction. But along those trivial situations, we have coined phrases like hate speech, hate crime, and hate group. Those are more serious matters. Soviet propaganda treasured what it called the sacred (yes, sacred) feeling of hatred for the real and especially fictitious enemies of the regime and tried to instill it into the brainwashed citizens. Witch hunts and mass hysteria served this purpose extremely well. Newspapers and demonstrators roared from morning till night something like “Death to the Trotskyite dogs! We demand a death sentence to…” and the appeal echoed and re-echoed through the stultified populace. Probably everybody remembers Orwell’s hate week. His description is amazingly true to life. Terrible country, terrible times. What a blessing that we know none of it!

Surely, the word designating such a strong, even if hardly sacred, feeling deserves an etymologist’s attention. Engl. hate and (to give one example) its Latin synonym odium (from whose root, via French, we have the adjective odious) are opaque. The same is true of many but not of all languages that have a word for “hate.” For instance, Russian nenavidet’ “to hate” is almost transparent: it has the negative prefix ne-, the prefix na– (“on”), and the root videt’ “to see.” The overall meaning is probably “to look at something with dislike or repulsion.”

I hate you! Image credit: “Argument Argue Fight Fighting Bicker Couple” by LillyCantabile. CC0 via Pixabay.

Engl. hate has cognates everywhere in Germanic. It also occurred in the text of the Gothic Bible, translated in the fourth century by Bishop Wulfila from the Greek. Before discussing the word’s origin, it may be useful to look at the Greek words Wulfila translated as hatis (noun) and hat(j)an (verb).

One was orgē. It denoted “inclination, nature, character” and secondarily (though quite often) “irritation, wrath, malice.” We can see that the initial sense of that noun was general, with “irritation” and “wrath” being the product of the narrowing of meaning (the reference remained to one, unexpectedly “negative” trait). The other word that concerns us at the moment is thȳmós. This noun occurred in Greek texts even more often than orgē and meant “the breath of life, vitality at its inceptive state; life, soul” and, by extension, “will, ardent desire, striving for; hunger; thirst, appetite; consciousness; mood; courage, fortitude” and less often (in the plural) “wrath, malice” and “passion.” Surprisingly, “hatred” is again not what we find among the glosses, though “wrath,” “malice,” and “irritation” are surely close by. The third word we need is miseîn, which indeed meant “to hate,” and, finally, there was kholáō “to rave; to be furious.”

Before returning to Greek, it might be useful to quote the places in the Bible Wulfila translated. I’ll reproduce the relevant places not from Gothic, but from the Authorized Version: “and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (E II: 3); “Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you” (L VI: 22); “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you” (L VI: 27); “That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us” (L I: 71);  “do good to them that hate you” (M V: 44), and: “are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath day?” (J VII: 23).

One of the most evil posters against Trotsky, with an open allusion to his Jewish origin. The Russian text says “Peace and freedom in the Russian Federation. Image credit: WhiteArmyPropagandaPosterOfTrotsky via Marxists.org. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Wulfila mainly needed a verb for hate and a participle for hating, rather than the noun, for the noun occurred only where the English text has wrath. In any case, in Greek we discovered four different words, in English three (hate, wrath, and be angry), while Wulfila preferred the Gothic word beginning with hat– in all cases, except in M V: 44, where the form hatjandam is a marginal gloss to fijandam. We have no way of discovering who supplied the gloss and why in those passages Wulfila had such a strong preference for the verb hat(j)an when he had the synonym fijan (we see its root in German Feind “enemy” and Engl. fiend, literally “hating”). A good deal has been written about the difference between fijan and hatan, but we may pass by that discussion.

The Goths did not only destroy Rome. They were the first Germanic speakers to be converted to Christianity. Image credit: Gothic soldiers (Missorium of Theodosius I) by Visipix. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Gothic translation was far from mechanical, because Wulfila drew most skillfully on the rich vocabulary of his native language (isn’t it amazing that the fourth -century Germanic barbarians had a vocabulary fully adequate, nuances and all, for translating not only the gospels but also the epistles from the convoluted, polished post-classical Greek?) and varied synonyms freely and ingeniously. In this case, he felt satisfied with the hat– words, though elsewhere for miseîn he did use fijan! It often seems that he was like a poet, listening to the effect his lines made. He must have been bilingual: Gothic and Greek. It is also known that he consulted with several knowledgeable people while doing his work. There was nothing haphazard or naïve about his translation.

We may now return to Greek. Rather unexpectedly, our survey showed that in all the Greek words but one “hatred” occupied the least significant place: we saw “inclination, nature, character; vitality, life, hunger, thirst; courage; madness, fury.” Apparently, “malice” could develop from several more general, admittedly, remote, concepts. Similar processes happen all the time, but we take them for granted. For example, the child is said to be acting up. What is the child doing? Rehearsing for a play? Getting its act together? (Another pretty obscure idiom.) No, the sweet darling has become unruly. Unless you know the meaning of the phrase to act up, you will never decipher the reference. It appears that nature, inclination, life, courage, and the rest could yield violent anger (let us note: anger, which is temporary, not hatred, which designates a permanent feeling). Did it happen because all things under the moon tend to deteriorate?

As etymologists we are forced to draw an important conclusion. In reconstructing the distant history of hate, we need not look only for other words of the near-identical meaning, because the source can be hidden in an unpredictable place. We should also explore the older senses of hate. Perhaps the most astounding find is this. I have once read that in Ossetian, an East Iranian language, the word for “love” is related to the Slavic word for “enemy.” No sources at my disposal confirm this hypothesis, but, whether correct or wrong, it is plausible and offers an example of what is called enantiosemy, that is, the coexistence of two opposite meanings in one word or ancient root (compare host and hostile and see the post for February 7, 2018). I would not have mentioned the facts of a language with which I have no familiarity if the unity of hatred and love did not loom in the distance, in our further exploration of the origin of hate.

At the moment, we’ll give way to gentler feelings and part until next week, but let me say something about the origin of the noun hatred. It has a suffix (-red), meaning “condition.” This suffix has never been productive, and today we can find it almost only in kindred. Hatred has partly ousted the reflex (continuation) of Middle Engl. hete. Hate still exists as a noun, but hatred is its more powerful rival (as could be expected).

Featured Image: Mikhail Vrubel, “The Flying Demon,” an illustration to Mikhail Lermontov’s narrative poem The Demon. “And all that was unstained and sacred/ Aroused in him contempt and hatred.” See Anatoly Liberman’s book Mikhail Lermontov, Major Poetical Works, p. 359. Featured Image Credit: Flying Demon by Mikhail Vrubel. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

Recent Comments

  1. Gavin Wraith

    A propos heart-cutting emotions my abridged Liddlell and Scott Greek Lexicon gives a verb kertomeo meaning ‘I taunt’ together with related words. Sturtevant’s Hittite Glossary gives a verb kartimmiyanun meaning ‘I angered’ together with related words. I cannot believe these are not cognate.

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