Armenian Language Corner

About Repentance

If you feel regret or changed your mind about something, then you repent. If you dedicate yourself to amend your life by turning away from sin, then you repent too. The former is a common word, while the latter is a theological concept that implies a change of heart and mind that brings you closer to God.

Unlike English, the Armenian language has two different words for “repent.” The common idea of changing your mind about something is called զղջալ (zughchal), and the noun that indicates this change of mind is զղջում (zughchoom). The idea of repentance by turning away from sin is known with the name of ապաշխարութիւն (abashkharootioon), and the action is ապաշխարել (abashkharil).

If you know some Armenian, you may have come across the word աշխարհ (ashkharh “world”) and the negative prefix ապ (ab) or ապա (aba), equivalent to English “de” (“denationalization”) or “des” (“disinformation”). (It has nothing to do with the adverb ապա /aba “then, afterwards”.)

If you put together ab and ashkharh, you might conclude that their combination created the word abashkharil, which literally would mean something akin to “to deprive [someone] from the world,” which is what you do when you get closer to God and farther removed from the sins of this world. That is fairly possible, especially since you would not be the first to arrive to that conclusion. The Mekhitarist fathers who compiled the famous New Dictionary of the Armenian Language (Նոր Բառարան Հայկազեան Լեզուի – Nor Parraran Haigazian Lezvi ), published in 1836-1837 as the ultimate source for the vocabulary of Classical Armenian, had already come to that idea long ago.

This is, however, what linguists have labelled as “popular etymology.” Popular etymologies are those created to explain away the meaning of a common or proper noun by analyzing its components. They do not take into account either similar words in other languages or the degree of reasonability of their hypothesis. (Years ago, the former dictator of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, had claimed that William Shakespeare was of Arabic origin, since his name could be explained as Sheik Spiro, a claim that is still held in some quarters.)

Actually, the word abashkharel has nothing to do with ashkharh. First of all, one should explain why the word ashkharh would have lost the final h to become ab-ashkhar-el or ab-ashkhar-ootioon , given that ashkharh does not lose the h in any other case (e.g. աշխարհամարտ /ashkharhamard “world war”). Secondly, the word abashkhar (pronounced apashkhar in Classical Armenian) has its source in the Iranian languages.

It is interesting to mention that Armenian loaned words from Iranian turn the original khsh into shkh. Thus, we have abakhshah in Pahlevi, abakhshad/abakhshay in Middle Persian, and bakhshay in Persian, all meaning “to pardon” and going back to a reconstructed original word *apakhshad .

To repent, in the end, also means that your sins are pardoned, but you do not come out of this world.