Asking the Wrong People


It was in Physics class that I learned to pick locks. Dick Feynman’s memoirs detailed it in theory. He also gave quite a bit of information on cracking safes. This, in addition to Feynman’s assertion that he solved hard problems because he had a different mathematical ‘tool-box’ gave me my first inkling of the power of asking the wrong people.


When I was a freshman there was a big push in my class to eliminate the phrase ‘tidal wave’ because – darn it – tides are not involved. That is a persuasive argument if you don’t have a good dictionary. Then you find that ‘tidal’ is a word in the Old Testament meaning ‘fearsome.’ And fearsome in an Old Testament way is an apt description of a tsunami. Besides, tidal is easier to say.

I learned that, as an act of simplicity, Einstein insisted on using the same soap for shaving as he used for washing. Since Einstein grew up in a time and place where shaving was an art, I looked into it. Water is the key. Hydrating hair takes it from something with the strength of copper wire to something softer. Heat helps as does soap which acts as a surfactant to reduce the surface tension and allow the water to soak in more easily. Making a lather allows the water to stay on the face. So cold shaving cream is both less effective than making a hot soap lather and much more expensive. And less pleasant. If you use a mug and a brush the results are surprising. Some shaving creams are so bad that I was actually asked, ‘Does shaving cream do anything but help you keep place?’ Not what I expected to learn from Albert Einstein.

One thing everyone gets wrong is the Fourth Commandment. It does not mean that you are not to say gal dang it, Dagnabit! Nor does it suggest the linguistic atrocity of writing god as G-d. The Bible means that God has a personal name, and that it may only be used at certain times by certain people. A name related to the ancient Semitic word for ‘to be.’ As the Hebrews did not write out their vowels the Tetragrammaton – Greek for Important Four-Letter Thingie – is written out as IHVH, YHWH, IHWH, or some similar form. Alphabets have changed a bit in the last four millennia. The Greeks went from Linear-B to illiterate to developing the Greek Alphabet to inspiring the Latin Alphabet to inventing letters that the Romans never heard of, such as y,j,w.

If you put the vowels for elohim -god – and mispronounce the initial letter as a ‘J’ you get ‘Jehovah’. Positively not the name of God and invented to not be the name of God. If you do the same for ‘lord’, ‘adaonai’, you get  something like ‘Yahweh.’ At least the initial letter is correct. So Indian Jones failed the test of the name in ‘Last Crusade’ and fell to his death. That probably explains ‘Crystal Skull.’

Such a great taboo has formed about this noun that legends have formed. Religious folk will tell you that the pronunciation is lost. This is a palpable lie. More on that later. The Golem of legend was animated when the wise man inscribed the tetragrammaton properly upon it. In most English language Bibles the four-letter thingie is written as Lord in all capitals – ‘LORD’ – to avoid the issue. The hereditary Cohen priests do an odd gesture of the hands when making the Priestly Blessing. In the Aramaic alphabet the hands can assume a sort of schematic representation of the name.


A bright, young Jewish fellow once decided that the higher feelings and wishes of a character he played demanded a sort of salute. Using the right hand of the Cohen gesture, Mr. Nimoy invented the Vulcan Salute. There is a fraternal organization which believes that one of their most important words is lost. But they decide the first letter is something like a G for god, and so their logo has a letter for a word they do not know. If this is not a metaphor for the loss of the tetragrammaton, paint me blue and call me Cuthbert.

The problem with the tragedy of The Lost Name is that it is a lie. Once again the power of asking the wrong people shows itself. Jews and Christians have this taboo, but all the neighboring nations wrote it down. Linguists know quite well what the words are.

shasu e yhvh

The Nomads of Yahweh. Note that the syllabary does not indicate ‘Yahweh.’

The myth of lost name is a lie. More evidence of the lie is hilarious. Johnathan Swift was a nasty man who wrote nasty satires. “A Modest Proposal” eventually suggested the Irish eat their babies to ameliorate the famine. He was the Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and a Doctor of Divinity. In the last book of Gulliver’s Travels he describes a land where the civilized and gracious creatures are shaped like horses – created in the image of beasts. Those who look human – created in the image of God – are dumb, ungracious, stupid animals. It is said that Swift would not write down the name of these brutes. He had his publisher bring three workmen to him. Johnathan Swift pronounced the name – or The Name – and the workmen decided how to spell it. Thus did ‘Yahoo’ enter the English language. Now, do you use or avoid that search engine?

So what about the Jews? Well there was a notable Zionist named Nathan Mileikowsky who when he moved to Israel decided he needed a more Hebrew name. Nathan is from Nathaniel and means ‘gift of God.’ Many Hebrew names end in -iah or -iel for god or the lord as circumlocutions to avoid the tetragrammaton. Nathan changed his family name to Nathaniel, except: Modern Europeans can’t pronounce theta so he used a ‘T’. And instead of -iel he actually used the name of God. He did leave off the final ‘H’. I wonder if that was an act of hubris or devotion. It seems rather arrogant for a religious man. Regardless his grandson is Benjamin Netanyahu .


If every group knows the secret, why do they keep it? Is it just for the educated?

The Arabic for Jew is Yahudi. The people of Yahuh. I am led to an uncomfortable inference. I was raised to have a great deal of respect for Jews and Moslems. Whatever our differences we worship the same god. However…. The Arabs knew the name of the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Moses. And Islam rejects it. Am I to infer that we do not worship the same god?  I find I am a bit disturbed by where logic takes me.

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