Analysing the etymology of the term cha

Last week we explained the primordial roots of the universal term ‘sha’ (burn), after having traced its first known written use to ancient Mesopotamian times. We also hinted that the term appears in two basic forms in many of their ancient texts: as sha and cha and that, even today, the Tswana language prefers sha while the Sotho language goes with cha for the verb ‘burn’. This week, we concentrate on the variation cha.

I consider a term to be ‘universal’ if there is evidence that it was, and still is, widely used across language families that are not supposed to be ‘genetically’ related.

My formal name for such a term is ‘proto-term’. According to Genesis 11, such a protolanguage did in fact exist but was deliberately scrambled by God (or rather by gods, in older ancient texts) during the failed Babel tower project in Shin’ar (Sumer), with the result that people began not to understand each other. I then presented a historical corroboration of that in the Sumerian text Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (Enmerkar is a historically attested king of Erech/Uruk.

In this vein, we can find the word cha in English but its etymology can be traced to Latin and Gaelic. An interesting word to break up in this instance would be the term ‘charcoal’. Dictionary etymologies trace the term to Celtic/Gaelic term caera (red; sierra in Spanish) which I would relate to ‘sear’. In fact, the dictionary definition of ‘sear’ is: “to burn or char the surface of’. The reader will notice that the word ‘char’ appears in the definition, and although this means ‘to blacken the surface of’ it does not take much to see that the common denominator here is ‘to burn the skin’. In light-complexioned people, skin will first turn red and then a dark colour when a scar appears – which explains the differences in colour. So although ‘charcoal’ may indeed derive from caera (red) + col, thus meaning red, or burning, coal it may also mean ‘burnt coal’ because we all know very well that charcoal is coal that has been partly burnt.


In Latin and its sister languages like Italian (i.e. the Romance languages), cha has the same connotation of ‘burning’. Since we know that when something burns it tends to give off light as well, the natural semantic shift from this would be ‘light-emitting’. Thus luce in Latin means ‘shining’ and from here the English term ‘lucent’ was derived, as were other terms like ‘lucid’ (clear, bright).

What is interesting here is that the same sa/sha/cha interrelationship we identified in Bantu languages last week subsists in European languages as well.

As such, luce (loo-seh) is pronounced ‘loo-cheh’ in Italian. Last week we also clearly identified the term sha with ‘will’ – which we described as a ‘burning’ (desire) for something – and therefore it should not surprise that ‘character’ too is likely to be premised on ‘char’ – a similar word. Character, of course, is a ‘wilful tendency’ that marks out a person.

All this allows us to see a very important term in the Old Testament that has caused confusion due to poor translation from the original Hebrew.

The term Luce-fer is correctly well-known in Isaiah 14:12 as meaning ‘light-bringer’. Since we are now familiar with luce, let me treat my readers to one extract from my ever-expanding, not-yet-published Dictionary of Protolanguage Terms as regards the term fer, or ferre. It of course relates to the English term ‘ferry’, but what about Bantu languages? In Sotho, for example, the morpheme fel means ‘to accompany’ (we know that l and r are interchangeable in many languages), thus ‘felehetsa’ (buledisa in Setswana).

Luce-fer was the Latin Vulgate name for Venus, the bright morning ‘star’ that heralds the breaking of dawn; which accompanies the sun. It was a fair, correct translation of the Hebrew phrase ‘star of the morning’. Now, all proper biblical philologists know something else very well (in other words, anyone else who doesn’t is either plainly ignorant or has shallow and pretentious knowledge). They know that the name ‘Lucifer’ as claimed in the King James Version (KJV) of the bible does not exist: that it is a literal transcribing of ‘Luce-fere’. Thus, the KJV passage in Isaiah 14:12 reads “Oh how thou art fallen, Lucifer, son of the morning” whereas my more modern New American Standard Bible copy reads “…o, star of the morning, son of dawn”. Evidently, its researchers had done their homework: there is no “Lucifer” there just as in the Hebrew original; no mischievous translation of luce-fer!

So, the full phrase in the Hebrew original was “helyl, ben sachar”. Now, the term helyl is not directly translatable in Greek or Latin or English – the sequence in which the Hebrew bible was translated. But Setswana has no problem with that: we have the exact same expression. Helyl (pronounced “heleil”) is helele! in Setswana. No Setswana speaker – even a child – needs an explanation of what this is, but let us oblige non-speakers of the language. It is a triumphant, mocking shout used particularly by a child when he knows that another has done something wrong and yet sees parents coming. Adults use it as a mocking rejoinder aimed at one who is claiming something highly pretentious.

Whatever the case, this mocking cry was clearly and unambiguously aimed at an unnamed King of Babylon (who has to be Nebuchadnezzar as he ruled in prophet Isaiah’s time but was in his deathbed).

Nebuchadnezzar had exiled and detained the Jews in Babylon; he was the one who called himself “king of heaven” and other titles that Jews thought were pretentious and befitted only the God of Israel.

They thus likened him to Venus, the brightest star of early morning but which suddenly fades to nothing when the sun (the Lord) comes out – a clear and understandable metaphor. It has nothing to do with the primordial light of Genesis 1:3 or with any angel…and even the context says so. Anything else was a later idea aimed solely at creating fear in unwitting medieval minds.

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