Monday, August 6, 2007

Words I'm Looking Up (One in an occasional series on words I'm looking up)

"hallows" (as in "Harry Potter and the Deathly")

More than halfway through the book, I finally realized that I really should look up "hallow" -- a word with which I have no better than a nodding acquaintance. I had only heard it in adjective form, "hallowed be thy name," and have occasionally heard it used as a verb, "to hallow" something, as in to revere.

Surely, the Florida public school system can be faulted for my not knowing it's also a noun, right?

Maybe not.

As I open up my two most-used dictionaries, I see a lot of entries for "hallow" the verb. But there are no entries for "hallow" as a noun. Here's a typical definition:
vt 1. to make holy or sacred; sanctify; consecrate; 2. to regard as holy, honor
as sacred; venerate
-- Webster's New World College Dictionary
Indeed, if Webster's New World College Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary make the rules, there is no noun called "hallow."

They remind me, however, that this can't have always been the case. Most of us have heard the etymology of the word "Halloween." It's an evolved term meaning (or once meaning) "all hallows' eve," a synonym for "all saints' eve."

I bet if I had $800 to spend on an Oxford English Dictionary (hint, hint all you Santas out there in cyber-land), I would find more information about "hallow" as a noun and its relationship to the word "saint." But even then I'd still be scratching my head right now because, in the book, the things referred to as "hallows" are definitely not saints. I'm not sure what they are, but that much I know.

Wikipedia gives me my best clue. According to this source I don't quite trust yet find myself relying on more and more all the time, "The word 'hallows' has been used in legends to represent important and powerful objects."

A lot of this seems to center around Irish lore, in particular a legend that has come to be known as the "Hallows of Ireland." There's also an instance of the word in the "Lord of The Rings" -- "kings and stewards of Gondor were laid to rest in tombs in 'the Hallows' of Rath Dínen," Wikipedia says.

And, in Arthurian legend, the Thirteen Royal Treasures of Britain have been called the "Hallows of Britain."

So clearly, it's a UK thing. Now I'm just wondering why this well established noun isn't in my supposedly "English" dictionaries.

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