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Is it Gd, G-d, God, Adoshem, Hashem, Jehovah, YHVH, YHWH, the Big Guy…?

Growing up, I was always getting a look from my dad for saying, “Oh my God!” He’s a stickler for the third commandment, which reads, “You shall not swear falsely by the name of the LORD your God; for the LORD will not clear one who swears falsely by his name.” So, what does that mean? There’s a pretty nice website run by the Orthodox Union that explains what this is all about. Basically, we shouldn’t go around saying “God this” and “God that” because that constitutes an oath, and we shouldn’t swear to things that aren’t worthy of being sworn to, which is pretty much everything. If we don’t pay attention to this rule, God’s apparently going to air our dirty laundry in public. Here’s where things get complicated: The Hebrew text doesn’t say “God,” it says this word made up of four vowels that we don’t know how to pronounce anymore. The implication is if you take that word, that name, and you use it willy-nilly you’ll be starting all kinds of trouble. The obvious solution to this problem is to come up with some other word and substitute it for God’s name. That way, we can say that word whenever we want without tempting Divine wrath. In Hebrew we’ve chosen the word Adonai. Usually, when you hear the word Adonai read from the Torah, it’s just the reader substituting that word in for the one we don’t know how to say. But Adonai is a holy word in-and-of itself, so most people don’t want to go bandying that word around, either. And that’s when all the other names come in. Hashem means The Name in Hebrew. The goal is to make a clear reference without using a name. Hashem spawned Adoshem, which is just Adonai with shem, name, substituted for the final syllable. In English this whole ‘refer to it without actually saying it’ idea is manifested with the Gd or G-d thing. The idea here is that by not writing the entire name we’re ensuring we’re not using it in vain, since it was never there to begin with. But here’s my beef with G-d: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word God is derived from the Old Teutonic, and the first reference is circa 825. Old Teutonic is not even in the same language family as Hebrew, which is to say the word God is in no way related to the Hebrew word we don’t know how to pronounce. There’s no connection at all. And if that’s the case, why do we need to be so careful not to say or write this word?? If you’re interested in this whole ‘What’s In A Name?’ issue, check out this page at jewfaq.org, which goes into lots of detail about why the name of God is so important. There’s also this page (be warned, it’s a Christian site) that explores the original name, and goes over all the different ways it might be pronounced. I don’t get in trouble for saying “Oh my God!” anymore, but I still try to avoid it in front of my dad, because even if the third commandment seems moot, there’s always the seventh commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.”

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