Armenian Language Corner

The Armenian Word for Easter

The Armenian word for Easter, Զատիկ (Zadig), does not appear in the translation of the Bible. However, it appears in other works of the fifth century A.D. and initially designated both the Jewish Passover and the Christian Easter.

It is possible that Zadig attempted to interpreted the meaning of the Jewish Pesach (Armenian Պասեք/ Basek), which celebrates the delivery (the “separation”) of the Jews from the captivity in Egypt and their crossing of the Red Sea. The word pesach actually means “passage,” hence English Passover . As the biblical story tells, the Red Sea opened its waters to allow the fugitive Jews passage to the Sinai Peninsula, thus saving them from Egyptian persecution.

It seems that the word has an Armenian origin, since it derives from the verb զատել/zadel (“to cut, to divide, to separate”), which is actually the combination of the prefix զ ( z ) and the verb հատել (hadel), with the same meaning as zadel. (The Classical Armenian form of the verb hadel was հատանել/hadanel). The use of the prefix z to create new words is not uncommon. For instance, we have the word զեռուն/zeroon, “snake; insect,” which came from the Classical Armenian verb զեռալ (zeral “to boil”), derived from the combination of z + եռալ (yeral “to boil”).

The word zadig has a colorful secondary use. It is the Armenian name for the ladybug. As it is well-known, the ladybug is linked to the Virgin Mary (hence the “lady” part of the name in English and the reference to Mary or God in other languages, like German and French). There are many theories for this linkage, and we can also make our own theories about why this useful insect, of which there are seventy-three species in Armenia, has been linked to Easter in our language. Perhaps because of its red color, one may ask, which is used to paint eggs in Easter?

Incidentally, Zadig was also used as male name in Armenian. However, the most famous Zadig in history was not Armenian. One should be reminded of Zadig, the main character of Zadig, or the Book of Fate (1747), the work of philosophical fiction by Voltaire (1694-1778), the famous French philosopher. As it happens, the plot of this novella was set in Babylon, and Zadig was… a Babylonian philosopher.