English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Rufus Wainwright's Cover of Hallelujah

The literal meaning of hallelujah is "Praise Yah", however the song uses it in different ways and I have always wondered what it really means in the song.

  • The baffled king composing Hallelujah

  • And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

  • It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

  • And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

  • It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

  • The holy or the broken Hallelujah

  • With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Complete lyrics: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/leonardcohen/hallelujah.html

share|improve this question

closed as off topic by simchona, Matt E. Эллен, Mitch, JSBձոգչ, Marthaª Jan 10 '12 at 15:34

Questions on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange are expected to relate to English language and usage within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I'm afraid lyric interpretations are off topic because they are very subjective. – Matt E. Эллен Jan 10 '12 at 12:00
According to the meta question on topicality of lyrical interpretation, lyrics can be on-topic when they have a language-related answer and don't veer into cultural questions. I think this particular question did have a language-related answer so that is where I focused my response. – Mark Beadles Jan 10 '12 at 14:47
Well, I am just asking because the literal meaning of Hallelujah didn't "fit" the context. He explained the use-mention distinction. – Fabián H. jr. Jan 11 '12 at 0:01
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Far be it from me to try to interpret the master Mr Cohen's lyrics. He can make words mean what he wants them to mean. Think of his songs as poetry.

I will only point out that there are two ways to use a word in the philosophy of language. We can 'use' the word for its literal meaning, as we usually do. So "hello" means "Good Day", and we have sentences like "He said hello".

But we can also 'mention' a word - this is called the use-mention distinction. When we mention a word, we use it as a "signifier", or a symbol. It doesn't just have its literal meaning, but is also a metaphor for an entire class of things. So "hello" can also mean "a greeting", and we can have sentences like "They kissed their hellos".

In many of the lines of this song, Mr Cohen is not only using but also mentioning Hallelujah. So Hallelujah can mean "Praise Jah", but it can also be mentioned to mean "A word or song of worship". E.g., the broken king composing a song of worship.

That's how he employs the words grammatically. As far as what he means: who can say but him?

share|improve this answer
Excellent answer. And for clarity, Jah is the shortened form of Jehovah ( The personal name of the Judeo-Christian God found in the bible. – OneProton Feb 25 at 6:21

the Jewish POV

Hallelujah - two words:

Hallelu - הללו - means Praise - a commend/request in 3rd person plural

jah -יה short for Jehovah - יהווה Jah is often used as a shortened form of the reconstructed Tetragrammaton see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetragrammaton

anyways Hallelujah stands for "all praise to the lord"

the jewish tradition often talks about the the concept " the lord have given the lord have taken praise the lord"

share|improve this answer
More specifically, lord is transliterated Adonai. "All praise to Jah/Jehovah" is more accurate. Perhaps you're confusing the often used all-caps LORD which is unfortunately used in some english bibles to represent the tetragrammaton YHWH. – OneProton Feb 25 at 6:25

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.