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Basically, can I said something like this?

But what really turned heads were her hands. They looked incredibly delicate and soft, so much that some started believing they were the reincarnated hands of a Goddess.

(the passage above is describing the hands of a teenager).

For some reason, it sounds strange to me.

Is it OK to use the word like the example above? Is there's a better one?

reincarnated according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

1 a : the action of reincarnating : the state of being reincarnated b : rebirth in new bodies or forms of life; especially : a rebirth of a soul in a new human body

2 : a fresh embodiment

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I believe this question would be improved by including a dictionary definition of reincarnate(d), as well as a description of the character in question. Are these young-looking hands on a beautiful young woman? Or Goddess-like hands on an otherwise old and wrinkly woman? Without such context, it's hard to suggest a better word. –  J.R. Jul 10 '13 at 10:15
    
@J.R. OK, done. –  janoChen Jul 10 '13 at 10:35

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Reincarnated seems inappropriate.

The word derives from incarnated from the Latin, incarnare, to be made flesh. It is defined as

(especially of a deity or spirit) embodied in human form

The prefix, re- means once more or again.

. . . reincarnated hands of a Goddess conveys that the hands are being made flesh again. It would suggest that the hands had been made flesh in the past. Just the hands? On whom were they previously made flesh? Other women? On the Goddess herself?

If the re- aspect does not refer to other women, but only to the Goddess, this suggests that the Goddess herself had previously been made flesh. This characteristic does not apply to all divine figures, but is very specific to individual religions and particular divinities (and some, made flesh, lack hands, such as Europa's Bull, Leda's Swan, etc.).

Further, the reference is to a Goddess, so there is no particular celestial being being referenced. As such, characterizing her or her hands as being reincarnated requires a presumption of at least one prior incarnation, which is not a given.

If you wish to stay with the made flesh root, perhaps

. . .the hands of a Goddess incarnate

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To save everyone a headache I decided to change the sentence to: "They looked so incredibly delicate and soft that some believed she had born with the hands of a Goddess." I guess that sounds better? –  janoChen Jul 10 '13 at 14:02
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@janoChen, IMO that variation isn't better, if in the original you replace reincarnated with reembodied –  jwpat7 Jul 10 '13 at 14:49

I don't like it. Goddess, especially with an upper-case G, seems to imply eternally living. So reincarnated in that context seems to create a paradox.

I'm not sure why you need an adjective there at all. You've already descibed the hands as “delicate and soft,” so you could simply say:

But what really turned heads were her hands. They looked incredibly delicate and soft, so much that some started believing they were the hands of a Goddess.

There's also the issue of whether or not hands can be reincarnated:

“The 50-year old beverage that has been reincarnated in recent years through a marketing campaign that appeals to young people's eagerness to live on the edge.” (D. Barboza)

I suppose if a beverage can be reincarnated, maybe hands could be, too, but I agree with your initial hunch – it sounds like the wrong word. When it comes to the human body, perhaps it's best to stick with reincarnating the whole thing, or finding a different word.

I think you could say either the hands of a Goddess, or else use some other adjective to describe the hands – such as reinvigorated, revitalized, renewed, restored, youthful, or alabaster – but I wouldn't do both.

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Oddly, I think the hands of a reincarnated goddess would work, but I agree that OPs example is over-egging the pudding. –  TimLymington Jul 10 '13 at 10:27
    
I think the word they are looking for is incarnation. –  Matt Эллен Jul 10 '13 at 12:14
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@Matt Эллен Or possibly "the hands of a Goddess incarnate." –  Wayfaring Stranger Jul 10 '13 at 13:19

Semantically, it is correct. Reincarnated is formed of the following:

  • re
  • in
  • carne

"Carne" comes form the Latin word for "flesh; meat". "Incarnate" therefore means "[spirit] put into flesh" with "reincarnate" meaning... well, you get it.

There is nothing within the word that suggests it only applies to the whole body or a body and a personality, or what have you. Therefore, the word structure allows for singular body parts to be "spiritually" transplanted elsewhere.

However, figuratively and artistically, it would not work because we are used to "reincarnated" being a denotation for whole-body/spirit transfer, so for a reader it would be confusing.

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I am not sure what theologies allow hands to have separate souls that can return to the flesh. –  TimLymington Jul 10 '13 at 20:00
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I'm not sure either. But it wasn't used in a religious sense in the example, it seemed to be used figuratively, so theological accuracy wouldn't be an issue. –  Corina Jul 10 '13 at 22:44

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