Etymology of the Word "Damn"

By Gary Amirault


The words "damn" and "Hell" are among favorite words spoken by theologians of the "hell-fire" type, that is, as long as they are used in church. These same words used in the local bar or on the athletic field would constitute "cussing" which would not be considered proper. If you are a little uncomfortable even reading about the word "damn" just remember the "Authorized" King James Bible uses it quite frequently. Let us look into the etymology of this word "damn." We may find some interesting surprises.

The Dictionary of Word Origins written by John Ayto and published in 1990 states the following about the word "damn":

Damn: Damn comes via Old French "damner" from Latin "damnare," a derivative of the noun "damnum." This originally meant 'loss, harm' (it is the source of the English 'damage'), but the verb damnare soon spread its application to 'pronounce judgment upon,' in both the legal and the theological sense. These meanings (reflected also in the derived 'condemn') followed the verb through Old French into English, which dropped the strict legal sense around the 16th century but has persisted with the theological one and its more profane offshoots. Condemn, damage, indemnity.

As we can see, originally the word was neither a "cuss" word nor did it have theological significance. It was a perfectly good word with which to translate the Biblical Greek words "apollumi," "krino," and "apolleia." But when theologians twisted this word out of its original meaning, it became a word which would smear the character of our Father. The world followed the church and used it as a "cuss" word, but it should be noted, that it was the church that turned it into its present meaning, not unbelievers.

The present meaning of the word does great injustice in rendering the Greek words in the Bible that have been translated "damn," "damnable," "damnation," etc. Many scholars have raised their voices protesting the use of this word in the Bible and it seems the trend presently is to remove it from scriptures. Below is given an example of the view of some very orthodox scholars on this subject The author is F.W.Farrar, a canon of the Church of England. In his book Mercy and Judgment he writes:

The words "damn" and its derivative do not once occur in the Old Testament. In the New Testament they are the exceptional and arbitrary translation of two Greek verbs or their derivatives; which occur 308 times. These words are "apollumi" and "krino." "Apolleia" (destruction or waste) is once rendered "damnation" and once "damnable." (2 Peter 2:3, and 2 Peter 2:1); "krino," (judge) occurs 114 times, and is only once rendered "damned." (1 Thess. 2:12) "Krima, (judgment or sentence) occurs 24 times, and is 7 times rendered "damnation." "KataKrino," (I condemn) occurs 24 times, and is twice only rendered "be damned."

Now turn to a modern dictionary, and you will see "damnation" defined as "exclusion from divine mercy; condemnation to eternal punishment." In common usage the word has no other sense.

But to say that such is the necessary meaning of the words which are rendered by "damn" and "damnation," is to say what is absurdly and even wickedly false. It is to say that a widow who marries again must be damned to endless torments (1 Tim. 5:12, "having damnation," krima), although St. Paul expressly recommends young widows to do so two verses later on. It is to say that everyone who ever eats the Lord's Supper unworthily, eats and drinks "eternal punishment" to himself, though St. Paul adds, almost in the next verse, that the judgment (krima) is disciplinary and educational, to save us from condemnation. (1 Cor. 11:29-34) It is to say that "the Day of Judgment" ought to be called "Day of Damnation." (John 5:29) It is curious that our translators have chosen this most unfortunate variation of "damn" and its cognates only fifteen times out of upwards of two hundred times that krino and its cognates occur; and that they have it for "krisis" and "krima," not for the stronger compounds "katakrima," etc. The translators, however, may not be to blame. It is probable that "damn" was once a milder word than condemn, and had a far milder meaning than that which modern eschatology has furnished to modern blasphemy. We find from an Act passed when a John Russell was Chancellor (in the reign of Richard III or Henry VII), that the sanction of an Act against extorted benevolences is called "a damnation"--that is, "the infliction of a loss." This is the true etymological meaning of the word, as derived from damnum, "a loss"; and this original meaning is still found in such words as "damnify," "indemnify," and "indemnity." In the margin of 1 Cor. 11:29, we find "judgment" for "damnation"; whereas in verse 32 the "judgment" of the Lord is milder than His "condemnation." Dr. Hey, in his lecture on the Ninth Article, says that the phrase, "It deserveth God's wrath and damnation," is used in the milder sense of the word which was originally prevalent. However this may be, the word has, as the Bishop of Chester says, undergone a modification of meaning from the lapse of time, and it is an unmixed gain that both it and its congeners will wholly disappear from the revised version of the English Bible. "Judgment" and "condemnation" are the true representatives of krisis and katakrisis, and they are not steeped, like the word "damnation," in a mass of associated conceptions which do not naturally or properly belong to them. Equally unfortunate is the word "hell."

The above writing was penned before the first major revision of the King James Bible was printed. His words came true. The Revision of the KJV removed the "damn" words from the Holy pages of the Word bringing us a few steps closer to removing the tarnish the church has put upon the character of the Creator of all human beings. For more study in this area, write for the audio tape Christian Cussin' and the 50 page article entitled Eternal Death: One step out of hell, One step short of Glory.

In conclusion, it is time for many preachers to stop blaspheming our Father. When they say that hordes of humanity are "damned to hell," they themselves are actually guilty of misrepresenting the Creator's role as Judge. The Scriptures declare that the earth will learn righteousness when His judgments are in the earth. It is we, who call ourselves Christians, who need to clean up our mouths and hearts far more than the unbeliever drowning his miseries at the local bar.



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