Host: A Most Interesting Triple Word!

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I have been asking friends about a very interesting word lately. It is the word “host.” I hadn’t actually thought about the word much before, but had used it all my life in its three meanings. I knew the three etymologies, but never realized how interesting this little word is! In some sense, it is not one word, but three separate words, that happen to have become spelled and pronounced the same in modern English.

Even more precisely as we shall see, they started off life as the same Proto-Indo-European root, then took divergent paths over the milennia, only to reunite in modern English. Three in One…hmmm…Where have I heard that before?

Open-Class and Closed-Class Words

In English, host can be a noun and a verb. English Nouns and Verbs are–surprisingly and counter-intuitively–not core elements of our language. They are called “Open-Class” words, meaning that new nouns and verbs are imported easily and frequently. English is perhaps the best word-importing language on the planet. Closed-Class words are those that change or import only very slowly.

In English, the Parts-of-Speech are usually classified this way:

  • Categories that will usually be open classes:
    • adjectives
    • adverbs
    • nouns
    • verbs (except auxiliary verbs)
    • interjections
    • ideophones, many of which are onomatopoeic* for example:
      • pitter-patter; the sound of rain drops
      • twinkle; the sound of something sparkling or shiny
      • swish; the sound of swift movement
      • splish-splash; the sound of water splashing
      • ta-da; the sound of a fanfare
      • bling-bling; glitter, sparkle
      • arf
      • moo
      • meow
© 2004

© 2004

*Onomatopoeia is the creation of words are those that sound like what the mean. It comes from ὀνοματοποιία (onomatopoiíathe coining of a word in imitation of a sound), from ὀνοματοποιέω(onomatopoiéōto coin names), from ὄνομα (ónomaname) + ποιέω (poiéōto make, to do, to produce). For example, frogs croak “ribit, ribit,” while in Ancient Greek they croaked Brekekekèx-koàx-koáx (GreekΒρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ) in  AristophanesThe Frogs.

If you think about it, this classification is correct. We see new nouns, verbs, adjectives coming into English all the time, but when did we acquire a new article or conjunction. Sure we can use some foreign conjunctions, such as Coffee cum Sugar or Coffee mit Sugar (Latin and German “with”), but no one hears them as English words. We revived a title, Ms with the advent of Feminism, to indicate a woman without reference to her marital status, but this still comes from Mistress, the ancestor of Miss and Mrs.

“Host” (Etymology 1) ?

Host is most commonly used to speak of the relationship of hospitality between a guest and a host. It can be a noun (“Our Host today is…”) or a verb: (“She is hosting the gathering.”) It has a wide range of applied meanings and usages, including:

  • Hosting someone at your residence
  • Hosting someone at a hotel, etc. (hotel and hospitality are etymologically connected to host)
  • Paying for drinks at an event or not (Host- or No Host-Bar)
  • Moderating an event or show
  • Being the host for a microorganism
  • A server or computer on a Network
  • Hosting a website on your server

All of these come from the Latin hospes, (Host/Guest). Its journey from Proto-Indo-European is given at Wiktionary:

From Old French oste (French: hôte), from Middle Latin hospitem, accusative of hospes (a host, also a sourjourner, visitor, guest; hence, a foreigner, a stranger), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰóspot- (master of guests), from *gʰóstis (stranger, guest, host, someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality) and *pótis (owner, master, host, husband). Used in English since 13th century.

hostguest-715051Did you notice something strange here? In Latin and French, their version of host means both “host” and “guest”! That’s because the PIE word involves “someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality.” It’s the relationship that is being talked about. So “guest” is cognate (born together) with “host”:

From Middle English gest, from Old Norse gestr, replacing Old English ġiest, both from Proto-Germanic *gastiz, from Proto-Indo-European *gʰóstis (stranger, guest, host, someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality). Cognate with host.

It would be tempting to think that “ghost” is part of this family, and that the thing that goes bump in the night is a “guest” in your house, but that would be a dreaded etymologica falsa (a false etymology). “Ghost’s” history is:

From Middle English gostgast, from Old English gāst (breath, soul, spirit, ghost, being), from Proto-Germanic *gaistaz (ghost, spirit), from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰeizd-*ǵʰizd- (anger, agitation), *ǵʰeysd-*ǵʰisd- (anger, agitation). Cognate with Scots ghaist (ghost), West Frisian geast (spirit), Dutch geest (spirit, mind, ghost), German Geist (spirit, mind, intellect), Swedish gast (ghost), Sanskrit हेड (heḍaanger, hatred).

We have a host* of words related to host/guest, such as hospitality, hostel, hotel, hospital, hospice, etc. notice that some use the nominative form hospes, and some use the oblique stem hospit- as in this declension of the third declension noun:

Number Singular Plural
nominative hospes hospitēs
genitive hospitis hospitum
dative hospitī hospitibus
accusative hospitem hospitēs
ablative hospite hospitibus
vocative hospes hospitēs

*”Host” in this sense if from our third etymology below.

St. Benedict

St. Benedict

There is traditional Roman Catholic Monastic saying that is derived from the 6th Century Rule of St. Benedict (Chapter 53, Verse 1: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ”):

“Hospes venit, Christus venit.” “A Guest comes, Christ comes.”

In a more modern, cynical age, some religious order members altered the saying and its meaning as a joke reflecting perhaps poor community conditions, adding a phrase from Mark: 15:3: Σταύρωσον αὐτόν. Crucify Him!

“Hospes venit, Christus venit. Crucifige Eum!” It is a joke about the opposite of hospitality. Hmmm!

So host as in being a host, comes from the Latin hospes, hospitis, and demonstrates the first etymology.

Host #2, A Second Etymology

For those who grew up in, are in, or know about the Roman Catholic Church, “Host” is a very important word, and should always be capitalized.


“Host” and “Hosts” in Roman Catholic language mean the Consecrated Bread in the Eucharistic Liturgy (commonly known as the Mass), which according to Catholic and Orthodox belief is the living presence of the Divine-Human Jesus Christ, commonly known as the Mass. Roman Catholics, unlike Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox Christians, typically use unleavened bread, baked into small flat circular disks. Eucharistic Theology is a huge field, and there is not space to go into it here fully. “Host” by the way is not used for the Eucharistic Bread in most of the Eastern Christian Churches.

One sometimes hears the etymologica falsa that this is because Christ is our Sacred Host (Etymology 1). Sorry, this is not so.

“Host” comes from a slightly different family of words although its Proto-Indo-European root is the same.. Here is its journey to us, from Wiktionary:

From Middle English also oistost, from Old French hoiste, from Latin hostia (sacrificial victim). From Proto-Indo-European *gʰóstis (guest, stranger) in its root sense of “enemy, stranger,” whence also Proto-Germanic *gastiz and Proto-Slavic *gostь.

So maybe “Hospes venit, Christus venit. Crucifige Eum!” has some truth to it!

“Host” therefore refers to Christ as the Paschal Sacrifice. This comes from the Roman Mass.

The Council of Trent (1545-1563)

The Council of Trent (1545-1563)

In the old Latin Mass–in the version standardized by the Council of Trent in the 16th Century–in the section of the Eucharistic Prayer (the Anaphora) that is called the Anamnesis, we hear:

Unde et memores, Domine, nos servi tui, sed et plebs tua sancta, ejusdem Christi Filii tui Domini nostri, tam beatae Passionis, nec non et ab inferis Resurrectionis, sed et in coelos gloriosae Ascensionis: offerimus praeclarae majestati tuae de tuis donis ac datis, hostiam + puram, hostiam + sanctam, hostiam + immaculatam, Panem + sanctum vitae aeternae, et calicem + salutis perpetuae.

Wherefore, O Lord, we, Thy servants, as also Thy holy people, calling to mind the blessed passion of the same Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, His Resurrection from the grave, and His glorious Ascension into heaven, offer up to Thy most excellent Majesty, of Thine own gifts bestowed upon us, a Victim + which is pure, a Victim + which is holy, a Victim + which is stainless, the holy bread + of life eternal and the Chalice + of eternal salvation.

By the time of the Council of Trent, practically every major part of the Roman Church used a different Sacramentary (book of services). Instead of accepting this diversity as natural inculturation as did the Eastern Christian Churches, the legal-mined Western Church (sometimes referred to in the past as “The Church of Lawyers”), valued uniformity instead of Unity in Diversity, and so imposed a standard Liturgy everywhere.

St. Ignatius Church (San Francisco)

St. Ignatius Church (San Francisco)

In the English version of the Mass in use from the time of Paul VI to 2011, this section read like this:

Father, we celebrate the memory of Christ, your Son. We, your people and your ministers, recall his passion, his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into glory; and from the many gifts you have given us we offer to you, God of glory and majesty, this holy and perfect sacrifice: the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation.

Now I am no conservative by any stretch of the imagination. But this English version of the Anamnesis did not do justice its Latin counterpart at all.

In the revised Missal propagated recently by Pope Benedict XVI, the English reads like this:

Therefore, O Lord,
as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion,
the Resurrection from the dead,
and the glorious Ascension into heaven
of Christ, your Son, our Lord,
we, your servants and your holy people,
offer to your glorious majesty
from the gifts that you have given us,
this pure victim,
this holy victim,
this spotless victim,
the holy Bread of eternal life
and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.

What has to be understood is that the Anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer) is a proclamation, a dramatic work that must be declaimed with power and enthusiasm [from Late Latin enthusiasmus, from Ancient Greek ἐνθουσιασμός (enthousiasmós), from ἔνθεος (éntheospossessed by God), from ἐν (enin) + θεός (theós“God)]. The rising triplet should be proclaimed:

hostiam puram
hostiam sanctam
hostiam immaculatam!

this pure victim
this holy victim
this spotless victim!

“Host” in this 2nd Etymology, then, comes from the Latin word hostia, a sacrificial victim, which worshipers heard in this Anamnesis section of the Anaphora.

Some Versions of the Anamnesis

The original languages of Christianity were Aramaic (which Jesus spoke) and Greek (the lingua franca of the Mediterranean at the time). Latin came later to Christianity. As Christianity spread, it inculturated in each area differently, but the structure of the Divine Liturgy (Eucharistic Liturgy) is fairly consistent in most ancient traditions. Let’s take a moment to sample some other Anamnesis sections.

Byzantine Divine Liturgy

Byzantine Divine Liturgy

The Byzantine Liturgy of St. Basil shared by Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine (Greek) Catholics, has this:

Do this in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this Bread and drink this Cup, you proclaim my death, and you confess my resurrection. Therefore, Master, we also, remembering His saving passion and life giving cross, His three; day burial and resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and enthronement at Thy right hand, God and Father, and His glorious and awesome secondcoming.

And from the Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, shared by Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine (Greek) Catholics:

Remembering, therefore, this command of the Savior, and all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming.

Note that these prayers are proclaimed from the standpoint of Eternity, as the Second Coming is “remembered.”  We do no re-enact anything at the Divine Liturgy, rather we enter into the Eternal Liturgy which is forever.

The Church of the East

The Church of the East

From the very ancient Anaphora of Sts. Addai and Mari, used in the Church of the East, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church:

And we also, O my Lord, Thy weak and frail and miserable servants who are gathered together in Thy name, both stand before Thee at this time and have received the example which is from Thee delivered unto us, rejoicing and praising and exalting and commemorating and celebrating this great and fearful and holy and life giving and divine mystery of the passion and the death and the burial and the resurrection of our Lord our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Armenian Church’s Anamnesis served in the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church is very similar to the Byzantine Liturgy’s Anamnesis, and therefore also takes the Eternal viewpoint:

And Thine only-begotten beneficent Son gave us the commandment that we should always do this in remembrance of him.

And descending into the nether regions of death in the body which he took of our kinship, and mightily breaking asunder the bolts of hell, he made you known to us the only true God, the God of the living and of the dead.

And now, O Lord, in accordance with this commandment, bringing forth the saving mystery of the body and blood or your Only-begotten, we remember his redemptive sufferings for us, his life-giving crucifixion, his burial for three days, his blessed resurrection, his divine ascension and his enthronement at your right hand, O Father; his awesome and glorious second coming, we confess and praise.

Coptic Divine Liturgy

Coptic Divine Liturgy

From the Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil, served by Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholics:

Therefore, as we also commemorate His Holy Passion, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension into the heavens, His sitting at Thy right hand, O Father, and His second coming which shall be from the heavens, awesome and full of glory; we offer Thee Thine oblations from what is Thine, for every condition, concerning any condition, and in every condition.


Ethiopian Kidase

Ethiopian Kidase

Interestingly in the Ethiopian and Eritrean Tawhedo and Catholic Churches, the Anamnesis is usually proclaimed by the people:

Priest: And as often as you do this, do it in memory of Me.
People: We proclaim Thy death, Lord, and Thy Holy Resurrection; we believe in Thine Ascension and Thy Second Coming…

The same is found in the Liturgy of the Maronite Catholic Church:

Priest: In this you will remember me.
Whenever you eat this mystery of my Body
and drink of my Blood,
you will proclaim my death until I return.
Congregation: O Lord, we remember your death,
we witness to your resurrection,
we await your second coming,
we implore your compassion,
and we ask for the forgiveness of our sins.
May your mercy come upon us all.

All of these originate in Christ’s words at the Last Supper in Luke 22:19 and recalled in 1 Corinthians 11:24:

Luke 22:19:

 καὶ λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων· Τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν διδόμενον· τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν.

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (NRSV)

1 Corinthians 11:24:

καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ εἶπεν· Τοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ σῶμα τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν· τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν.

…and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.


Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, San Francisco

Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, San Francisco

In at least one of the Western Churches that broke with Rome during the Reformation, the anamnesis is retained in Eucharistic Liturgies. Here are some Anglican examples:

Therefore, heavenly Father,
we remember his offering of himself
made once for all upon the cross;
we proclaim his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; we look for the coming of your kingdom,
and with this bread and this cup
we make the memorial of Christ your Son our Lord.
(Order 1, A)

And so, Father, calling to mind his death on the cross,
his perfect sacrifice made once for the sins of the whole world; rejoicing in his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension,
and looking for his coming in glory,
we celebrate this memorial of our redemption.
As we offer you this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, we bring before you this bread and this cup
and we thank you for counting us worthy
to stand in your presence and serve you.
(Order 1, B)

Therefore we proclaim the death that he suffered on the cross, we celebrate his resurrection, his bursting from the tomb,
we rejoice that he reigns at your right hand on high
and we long for his coming in glory.
(Order 1, F)

at-your-command-all-things-came-to-be-the-vast-expanse-of-interstellar-space-galaxies-suns-the-planets-in-their-courses-and-this-fragile-earth-our-island-home-the-book-ofSince we are speaking about the Anglican Church (and of its American branch), I could not omit sharing what I consider one of the most remarkable pieces of modern Liturgical poetry. It is the Preface to Eucharistic Prayer C of Rite II:

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Then, facing the Holy Table, the Celebrant proceeds

God of all power, Ruler of the Universe, you are worthy of glory and praise.
Glory to you for ever and ever.

At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of
interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,
and this fragile earth, our island home.
By your will they were created and have their being.

From the primal elements you brought forth the human race,
and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us
the rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed
your trust; and we turned against one another.
Have mercy, Lord, for we are sinners in your sight.

Again and again, you called us to return. Through prophets
and sages you revealed your righteous Law. And in the
fullness of time you sent your only Son, born of a woman, to
fulfill your Law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace.
By his blood, he reconciled us.
By his wounds, we are healed.

The Anglican Church is remarkable for embracing and hallowing the modern world.

A Note on the Words Anaphora and Anamnesis

Fr. Kevin and Fr. Deacon Kyril at the Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church, SF.

Fr. Kevin and Fr. Deacon Kyril at the Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church, SF.

Anaphora and Anamnesis are words that Liturgical scholars use all the time, but are probably not well known by the general public. They both come from Greek, demonstrating the Greek origins of Christian Liturgy.

Liturgy means something different than we usually think. It comes from From Middle French liturgie, from Latin liturgia, from Ancient Greek λειτουργία (leitourgía), from λειτ- (leit-), from λαός (laóspeople) + -ουργός (-ourgós), from ἔργον (érgonwork) (the public work of the people). It is the work of the people, not just of the Clergy.

Anaphora is a lifting up or giving back: From Ancient Greek ἀναφορά (anaphoráa carrying back), from ἀνά (anáup) + φέρω (phérōI carry). In the first sense, we are lifting up our Prayer to the Lord. Here is the beginning of the Anaphora from the Byzantine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostim:

Priest: Let us stand well. Let us stand in awe. Let us be attentive, that we may present the holy offering in peace.

People: Mercy and peace, a sacrifice of praise.

Priest: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

People: And with your spirit.

Priest: Let us lift up our hearts.

People: We lift them up to the Lord.

Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord.

People: It is proper and right.

If we consider Anaphora as a Giving Back, we can see that in this text from the same Liturgy:

Priest: We offer to Thee these gifts from Thine own gifts in all and for all.

People: We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks to Thee, and we pray to Thee, Lord our God.

Anamnesis is from Ancient Greek ἀνάμνησις (anámnēsisremembrance), from ἀνά (aná, “on or upwards”) + μιμνῄσκω (mimnēískōcall to mind). μιμνῄσκω is to remember, is from Proto-Indo-European *mneh₂-. Cognates include μνάομαι (mnáomaito be mindful), Sanskrit (amnāsisuh), (mamnau). Adding the preposition ἀνά intensifies the calling to mind. It is not just memory, it is entering into the events remembered.

Before we leave this section on the Anamnesis, I wanted to mention that in the Byzantine Christian Tradition shared by Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics, the Great Blessing of Waters on Theophany (January 6, the Feast of Christ’s Baptism) has a prayer over the Water which has a very similar structure to Divine Liturgy, including a lengthy Preface, Institution, Anamnesis and Epiclesis. The video above shows a portion of this service at St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brompton ON. Please help them rebuild their Church after a fire. We’ll analyze this remarkable service in another post, but here is part of the text from the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Denver:

For You brought all things out of nothingness into existence by Your will, You controlled creation by Your might, and You govern the world by Your providence.

You organized creation from four elements, and crowned the cycle of the year with four seasons.

Before You tremble the supersensual powers.

The sun praises You, the moon worships You, the stars submit to You, the light obeys You, the tempests tremble, and the springs worship You.

You spread out the heavens like a tent; You established the earth upon the waters; You surrounded the sea with sand. You poured out the air for breathing; the angelic hosts serve You, the ranks of Archangels worship You, the many-eyed Cherubim and the six- winged Seraphim stand in Your presence and fly about You, hiding with fear from Your unapproachable glory.

While remaining a boundless God, without beginning and beyond comprehension, You came to earth taking the likeness of a servant, and became like men; in the tenderness of Your compassion, O Master, You could not bear to see mankind defeated by the Devil, but You came instead to save us.

We attribute grace to You and preach mercy, and call You benevolent; You freed the sons of our nature; You sanctified the virginal womb by Your nativity; thus all creation has praised You for Your manifestation.

You, O our God, appeared on earth and walked among men.

You sanctified the courses of the Jordan, having sent Your all-holy Spirit into it from heaven, and You crushed the heads of the dragons that nestled therein.

Priest Wherefore, O King, You Who love mankind: be present now by the descent of Your Holy Spirit and sanctify this water.


Priest Wherefore, O King, You Who love mankind: be present now by the descent of Your Holy Spirit and sanctify this water.


Priest Wherefore, O King, You Who love mankind: be present now by the descent of Your Holy Spirit and sanctify this water.


Priest And grant it the grace of redemption and the blessing of Jordan.

Make it a fountain of incorruptibility, a gift unto sanctification, a redemption of sins, a healing of illness, a destroyer of Satan, unapproachable by the adversary powers and full of angelic powers; that it may be to all who drink this water and receive it for the sanctification of souls and bodies, for the healing of suffering, for the sanctification of homes, and for every healing benefit.

You are our God Who with water and the Spirit renewed our nature made old by sin.

You are our God Who drowned sin in the water at the time of Noah.

You are our God Who in the sea delivered the Hebrews from the bondage of Pharaoh by the hand of Moses.

You are our God Who cleaved the rock in the wilderness so that water gushed out and the valleys overflowed, to satisfy Your thirsty people.

You are our God Who with fire and water delivered Israel from the error of Baal at the hands of Elissáeus.

Priest Wherefore, O Master, sanctify this water by Your Holy Spirit.


Priest Wherefore, O Master, sanctify this water by Your Holy Spirit.


Priest Wherefore, O Master, sanctify this water by Your Holy Spirit.


Priest. Grant sanctification, blessing, cleansing and health to all who touch it and who are anointed with it, and who receive of it.

Afterwards, parishioners are anointed with the Sanctified Water, drink it, and it is sprinkled all around the Church and in their homes, as is the custom in the Byzantine Tradition.

So to sum up, Roman Catholics heard the word “Hostiam” in their Liturgy and borrowed this to name the Eucharistic Bread, the “Host.”

Host #3, A Third Etymology

Our third and final “host” also comes from the same Proto-Indo-European source word, *gʰóstis (guest, stranger), but its route to us is different: It comes from Old French hoste, from Middle Latin hostis (foreign enemy) (as opposed to inimicus (personal enemy). Hostis comes from the Proto-Italic *ɣostis, from Proto-Indo-European *gʰóstis (guest, stranger), whence also Proto-Germanic *gastiz and Proto-Slavic *gostь.

In English, this “host” means

  • a large number of people arrayed as an army (usually an enemy army)
  • a religious grouping, such as the Heavenly Host of Angels (an Angelic Army), The Lord of Hosts (God), or a Host of Demons.
  • a large number of something: a host of reasons, a host of spare parts (inventory–a list that contains things found: from Latin inventarium, based on invenire (to find)).

As an enemy army, perhaps the best known usage is in Lord Byron’s 1815 poem “The Destruction of Sennacherib” based on 2 Kings 18–19 in the Hebrew Scriptures. The passage ends with Sennacherib’s miraculous defeat:

That very night the angel of the Lord set out and struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; when morning dawned, they were all dead bodies. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria left, went home, and lived at Nineveh. As he was worshiping in the house of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped into the land of Ararat. His son Esar-haddon succeeded him.

Peter Paul Rubens, "Destruction of Sennacherib"

Peter Paul Rubens, “Destruction of Sennacherib”

Lord Byron’s poem is written in anapestic tetrameter to create the feeling of the galloping horses in the Assyrian host. “In classical quantitative meters it consists of two short syllables followed by a long one; in accentual stress meters it consists of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. Anapest comes from the Greek ανάπαιστος, anápaistos, literally “struck back” (a dactyl reversed), from ana and -paistos, verbal of παίειν, paíein “to strike.” The first verse is marked so that you can see the stresses. Read the poem aloud and you will hear the hoofbeats.

The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.

“Host” in this sense is often paired with the verb “arrayed.” Linguists call this a “collocation,” from Latin collocare (“to put together”) co- + locō (put, place, set). It means that two or more words are used more frequently together than would be statistically expected. Collocations are vital to learning how to speak a language like the native speakers do.

'Take' collocations

An excellent example of collocations and their role in speaking like a native is the word “judgement.” You can pair some form of “judgement” with:

  • accept
  • affect
  • cloud
  • deliver
  • exercise
  • form
  • give
  • impair
  • make
  • pass
  • reserve
  • suspend
  • use

(Thank you, a great source for free online English information!)

You cannot say “I did a judgement.” If you did, native speakers would understand what you meant, but it would mark you as a non-native speaker. Remember that Linguistics is a science that describes and records how people say things, it does not make rules that they have to follow, like Language Academies try to.

The social and economic benefits of speaking and writing as the educated natives do was creatively demonstrated in the wonderful Lerner and Lowe 1956 musical My Fair Lady, based on the 1912 play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Many, myself included, consider this the most perfect musical in history, where the lyrics are completely integral with the plot. Stephen Sondheim learned this very well, and that’s why his musicals are so outstanding!

I’m not trying to be a snob like Professor Higgins. The reality is that you will make more money if you can speak and write professionally. How you speak to your friends and family are fine, but you must be able to speak well in the Board Room. I didn’t create this system and don’t particularly like it, but it’s there.

Here’s a number from one of my all time favorite musicals, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Music and Lyrics by Sondheim.) The book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart is based on the plays PseudolusMiles Gloriosus and Mostellaria by ancient Roman playwright Plautus (251–183 BCE), which we read in Fr. Brill’s Latin Classes at Brophy Prep. It illustrates Sondheim’s genius at moving the plot along with his lyrics, even in the credits! And of course, it stars the incomparable actor Zero Mostel, whom I miss so much, reprising his Broadway role!

I can’t resist one more Sondheim gem, 1979’s Sweeney Todd (book by Hugh Wheeler), based on the 1973 play Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond. I liked the film version, but am so happy that I saw it the Uris Theater on Broadway with  Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett, and George Hearn as Todd. I’ll never forget the energy and electricity of the opening.

And one of the most famous numbers from the Film Version:


We have traveled on quite a journey with our Three-in-One word “host.” That’s what makes language study so interesting to me. Each of our words is a living hologram of its, and our, history. Each one is a portal to our journeys. Enjoy these adventures!

Thank you for reading!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

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