Monday 2 May 2011

Nothing to do with ABBA

A fellow was shot today in Abbottabad. It may have been yesterday. I'm not sure. What I can say for certain is that it is no coincidence that Abbottabad sounds like the English word Abbot, for the town is named after an English general named James Abbott.

This brings us to the central mystery of the shooting in Abbottabad: how did the surname Abbott come about. 'Simple!' I hear you cry. 'One of his ancestors must have been an abbot.'

Not so simple. The earliest Mr Abbot (Alwoldus Abbas) is recorded in 1111 AD, by which time priests were absolutely and completely banned from getting married and making babies. Of course, they still did have babies, but the babies were illegitimate.

Abbot as a surname probably arose not as a description of a profession (like Smith or Baker), but as a nickname, presumably for somebody rather pious and fatherly.

For abbot, ultimately means father. It comes from the Latin abbatem, which is the accusative of abbas, which comes from the Greek abbas, which comes from the Aramaic word abba.

How did an Aramaic word get into Latin? From Jesus, or more specifically from Mark's Gospel. Jesus would have spoken Aramaic, but the Gospels were written in Greek. Occasionally, though, the evangelists, for some reason, felt it necessary to mention the original word* that Jesus had used. For example:

And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.

So abba was an Aamaic honorific meaning Father. How Mr Laden felt about living in a place named after a Christian priest and a Jewish father is unknown. I hope that if the special forces were able to get one answer out of him, it would have been that.

None of which has anything at all to do with the Swedish pop maestros ABBA, who are named after a Swedish fish-canning company.

Since 1838

*Well, sort of. The quote actually comes from the agony in the garden, of which there were no waking witnesses. So, like me, it's either odd or inspired.


  1. You're right! No one was awake. I've never thought about that before. Jesus must have given all the details to someone later; e.g. 'You know while you were all having a snooze in the garden last night...?

  2. Must have been post resurrection, as He was a little busy before then.

    Same thing applies to the temptation in the wilderness, dove at baptism etc etc

  3. Inky Fool: odd and inspired,I'd say. But one of the Delightful, rather than Sorrowful, Mysteries.