What is the purpose of the word 'take' in the expression "take the Lord's name in vain"? I understand that it can be replaced with 'say' or 'use'. Does 'take' in that case just mean you are accepting the lord's name in vain (as in you're accepting the use of his name without purpose), like 'take something for granted'?

Maybe give me a few examples where the word 'take' is used in a similar way.


That's the question; the following is more of a comment on it if you will. Obviously you often take the purpose of a word in a sentence for granted, often because it's used regularly around you and you just pick it up. Now, just a little background, English is my second language, and I find that I often overthink the purpose of each word in a sentence, especially if I haven't seen the words be used in such a way before, in order to better my understanding of the English language. I also find that in my native language I do just take for granted how a sentence is structured because, well, I just picked it up without even considering the purpose each word serves in the sentence. However I find that if I know the alternative purpose of a word then I can make better use of it in the future and not just understand that one sentence but plenty other similar ones.

closed as unclear what you're asking by Drew, Cascabel, Dan Bron, Mitch, Canis Lupus Mar 9 '17 at 23:55

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  • i do not believe the accepted meaning to use gods names as profanity is a correct interpretation. I believe it means to use god to support your personal ideology, philosophy, prejudice's etc vainly. An example would in today's America we have a significant percentage or right wing conservatives who want to legislate there morality, or hatred or what ever it may be, onto the population as a whole and they use god to justify their un-devine perverted agenda. This seems to be endemic in all extremists of all religions and ideologies. Presuming to speak for god IS taking gods name in vain. – Alaska Man Mar 10 '17 at 4:35

It's not entirely clear. The phrase "Take the Lord's name in vain" is actually a fairly direct translation from the Hebrew. Specifically the word translated take is nasa, meaning "to lift, carry, bear, take away". The phrase is not a natural English construction, but a foreign phrase translated close to word-for-word.

Other uses of "Take" in this sense will almost certainly be referring back to the biblical original, so they would probably be of little use to us here.

It does seem that this phrase has prompted a fair amount of discussion in the Jewish world as well as the Western, so it's fair to say that nobody actually knows exactly what it means!

  • I think we do actually know what it "means". The full OED includes definition 63b: To use or utter (a person's name) in a particular way. Chiefly in to take (a person's name) in vain. It's just that the usage of take with that exact sense virtually never occurs in any other context today, but it's not that different to their definition 63a: to deal with mentally; to consider, which remains perfectly common. – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '17 at 16:57
  • Since it's a direct translation of the Hebrew, any English definition is at best tangential to the actual meaning - especially given the influence the Bible has had on the development of English. Searching for "What does the third commandment mean?" brings up 358,000 results, with a different answer in each of the first five results. – Werrf Mar 8 '17 at 17:07
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    Thanks for all of the comments, and the fast response, really cleared everything up, as to why I did not completely understand the meaning of the word 'take' in that context. What I take from this is that there are some obsolete and trivial meanings to words which are rarely used but do still make sense. – Oskar Mar 8 '17 at 17:07
  • Actually, although the full OED doesn't address the specific "etymology" of this particular sense under the entry for take, they do cover it in their definition 6b under vain - With name as object. To use or utter (the name of God) lightly, needlessly, or profanely; transf. to mention or speak of casually or idly, which usage is explained as a literal rendering of assumere (nomen Dei) in vanum in the Vulgate text of Exod. xx. 7. So unless you're going to argue that the Latin was just another "literal translation" from Hebrew, I don't think this is quite right. – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '17 at 21:48
  • (but it's good enough for my upvote, since no-one else seems to be interested! :) – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '17 at 21:49

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