Armenian Language Corner

From Creation till Today

In the fifth day of Creation, “God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind” (Gen 1:25), and then “the man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field” (Gen 2:20).

Interestingly, the first animal of the field that appears mentioned by name in the Book of Genesis was the serpent: “Now the serpent was craftier than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made” (Gen 3:1). Surely, we do not need to remind the readers what this crafty animal did to the human race…

“Serpent” comes from Latin serpens (“snake”) via French, actually derived from the verb serpere (“to crawl”). Interestingly, the Armenian word սողուն (soghoon “reptile”) also comes from the verb սողալ (soghal “to crawl”). As we know, serpents belong to the order of reptiles.

People often complain that Armenian words are too long. Here you have the opposite example: rather than the two syllables of “serpent,” we have a one-syllable Armenian counterpart, օձ (otz). Perhaps “serpent” was too “long” for some tastes, and this is why nowadays it is mostly used in a poetic way and has been replaced in common use by the one-syllable “snake.”

Serpents or snakes are divided into two main categories: venomous and non-venomous. The most common Armenian word after otz is իժ (izh), which designates the venomous snakes, i.e., vipers. For the category of non-venomous serpents (according to the experts, 85 per cent of the total, including boas and pythons), there is the much less known, but generic word լորտու (lordoo).

While serpents sometimes have a good press in Biblical beliefs (for instance, the bronze snake that Moses lifted in the wilderness, Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:15), there is no doubt that their role into breaking God’s command and provoking the fall of humanity has earned them a widespread metaphoric symbolism to designate a subtle, treacherous, malicious person, the examples of which the world, unfortunately, has seen in the past and continues seeing in the present.

You may not see a real serpent in your entire life, but you need to be careful of them, nevertheless.