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I looked up "Hallelujah" in etymonline.com today, and the result, as often happens with etymological research, ended in following a rabbit warren of possibilities.

Take the word "Hallelujah" for example.

This apparently springs from the Hebrew hallalu-yah (praise-Jehovah). Following up on "praise", the etymological roots are linked to the idea of "price" and "value". This is, of course, a dangerous, and ultimately deceptive route for researching etymological roots, as etymology is the study of (a) chronology and (B) geography (and the its linguistic implications).

So, I looked again at etymonline.com, to find that "hillel" (he praised), was "of imitative origin, with primary sense being "to trill."."

So, "to praise" in its original Hebrew terms had its etymological roots in "to sing".

Now, I realise that to go beyond this chronologically would be futile (or very difficult to say the least), so I searched the etymological roots of "trill" and "sing" to see what conceptual links they brought about (I am aware, of course, that these concepts may not have been congruous with the Hebrew concept of "to sing", but I am hopeful that that they may shed light on the root (though this is, of course, conjectural)).

So, looking at the roots of "sing" brought up, other than circular links of variations of " to sing", was "sengwh- "to sing, make an incantation." ".

Now, to "incantation" clearly has its roots in magic.

My question, therefore, is ultimately metaphysical. Can one go beyond "magic" and "sing" to define a term that is , at best, instinctive, and at least culturally significant?

NB: I realise this question doesn't do justice to, or even qualify the use of the title, but the question clearly has larger implications that are communicable within a forum setting.

closed as off-topic by MrHen, user66974, FumbleFingers, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, Hellion May 26 '14 at 17:26

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    One needs a better dictionary than etymonline if you want to do this stuff. An etymology that says "of imitative origin" is saying nothing. First, Hebrew and English are unrelated, hence share no cognates. Second, singing, talking, praying, and praising are all linguistic events, and it's natural for their translations to echo one another like this. You can do it with any bilingual dictionary: pick a word and look up all its definitions in the other side; then look up all their definitions on the first side. You'd think two or three trials would lead to every word; but it usually converges – John Lawler May 6 '14 at 17:49
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    @medica: Martin's referring to the title of the "American Heritage Dictionary". It's just a title, and the major difference -- pronunciation -- is not dealt with very well in that dictionary, so it doesn't make any difference in the end. (If you want American English pronunciation, Kenyon and Knott is the gold standard; or use the English side of a <Language>-English bilingual dictionary -- they'll have the English pronunciations in IPA.) But the etymologies in the AHD of PIE Roots are quite reliable and go as far back as possible. Plus, there's an index of Semitic roots, too. – John Lawler May 6 '14 at 19:06
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    The root radical is הלל (HLL). 4000 years ago an LA teenager traveled back in time and wrote LOL in Phoenician, to teach the philistines humour. Soon, the Phoenician version mutated in Hebrew and Aramaic. And then they added the definite article (ה) - HaLOL. But as you are aware, Hebrew and Aramaic do not encode vowels in their root radicals. So, it became HLL. And then the Arabs caught on, and thought eating kosher should be fun and therefore - halal. – Blessed Geek May 7 '14 at 3:23
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it says that it is about metaphysics, not about English. – tchrist May 16 '14 at 1:36
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about languages in general and not the English language in particular. – MrHen May 19 '14 at 18:32