Marble Roman sarcophagus depicting the Triumph...

Image via Wikipedia


A Word Nerd Thursday blog

By Voni Harris 2-9-12

Last week, sorry to say, I left you with TRAGEDY. It was okay; it was funny. Nevertheless, let’s see what we can learn about TRIUMPH today.

According to my trusty American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the word is from the Latin triumphare, akin to the Greek athriambos, “a hymn to Bacchus.”

Of course, the Romans took the word into their language, and took it up a level.

Noah Webster explains, in his 1829 Dictionary: “Among the ancient Romans, a pompous ceremony performed in honor of a victorious general, who was allowed to enter the city crowned, originally with laurel, but in later times with gold, bearing a truncheon in one hand and a branch of laurel in the other, riding in a chariot drawn by two white horses, and followed by the kings, princes and generals whom he had vanquished, loaded with chains and insulted by mimics and buffoons. The triumph was of two kinds, the greater and the less. The lesser triumph was granted for a victory over enemies of less considerable power, and was called an ovation.”  This is portrayed on the picture of Roman sarcophagus above.

We English speakers, somewhere along the line, took the word up another level, and TRIUMPH began to be used for the victory itself, rather than the accompanying celebration or a ceremony.

If you completed last week’s Word Nerd Challenge of the Week, you know that TRAGEDY (“goat-song”) came from a chorus accompanied by the sacrifice of a goat to Bacchus, as TRIUMPH came from a hymn, to Bacchus. What an interesting guy that grape- and wine-god, Bacchus, must have been in the imaginations of the ancients. I’m so glad to worship the one true God, who needs no sacrificial goats, and who TRIUMPHED over death.

WORD NERD CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: Since a triumph used to be a ceremony, why not pull out your dictionary, or look in the searchable online 1828 Dictionary of Noah Webster, and discover for yourself the origin of the word CEREMONY. I leave it to you, fellow Word Nerds! Tell what you find out by commenting, wouldya?