Armenian Language Corner

A Comic Word

For those of our readers who are into comics, particularly the series X-Men, there is a female character called Jubilee in them, whose actual name is Jubilation Lee. How do the English words jubilee and jubilation relate?

We do not know for sure. Jubilation comes from the Latin verb iūbilō (“shout for joy”). Hebrew yovel (= English jubilee) marked the year at the end of seven cycles of sabbatical years, which had a special impact on the regulations of property and management of land in the land of Israel, according to the Bible. The Latin translation of the Bible (Vulgata) translated the word as iobeleus, while the Greek translation (Septuaginta) rendered it as “a trumpet-blast of liberty.” The reason for the latter was that the Jubilee year was announced by a blast on a shofar (Armenian շեփոր, shepor), an instrument made from a ram’s horn (Hebrew yobhel “ram”).

The Armenian word յոբելեան (hopelian), which today means “birthday” or “anniversary feast,” is used to mark an anniversary of any kind (for instance, 2013 was the 95th hopelian of the creation of the Republic of Armenia on May 28, 1918), whereas the English jubilee is most commonly used to mark a twenty-fifth (“silver”) or a fiftieth (“golden”) anniversary. The Armenian word derives from Greek yobelos, where the Greek suffix –os was replaced by the Armenian եան (ian), which means “belonging to.”

However, there is an alternative explanation, after all. It has been suggested that Latin jubilo and Ancient Greek iuzo (“shout”) both come from a common Indo-European root *yu- (shout for joy) that predates the Bible. (There is also the Modern English word yowl.) If such were the case, then the Hebrew word yovel would be a borrowing from a neighboring Indo-European language rather than a derivation from another Hebrew word. And then the Greek yobelos, Armenian hopelian, and English jubilee would have an ultimate Indo-European origin, even if kept by the Bible.

Words can be fun and mysterious.