2

Initially, I thought that the phrase "saying grace" was only used in English to mean when Christians say a prayer before eating. Some research has made me question whether "saying grace" is now used in a broader capacity and I'm just not aware of it.

If I look at the definition on Wiktionary,

(countable) A short prayer of thanks before or after a meal.

And this article on dictionary.com which a user in the comments pointed out:

Saying grace before meals is a practice as old as time and fundamental to cultures around the world. Some say it religiously before each meal, while others only pause before a big, festive holiday meal.Saying grace essentially means to “pray for” or “give thanks for the food one is about to consume or has consumed.” Grace stems from the Latin word gratia, which means “favor” or “kindness,” and it’s a derivative of the word gratus, which means “pleasing.”

It would seem like there are definitions out there that would lend to this theory. However, I'm not sure how common it is to use the phrase in this manner.

So is "say grace" actually used in this broader sense? If so, how common is it?

(The reason I started wondering is because I saw it used in a translation of a Japanese book, where the characters most likely wouldn't be actually saying grace, and I wondered if the translator knew something I didn't, or if it was just a localization choice.)

12
  • 1
    This is going to be hard to answer definitively. There's a pervasive bad habit (or just plain ignorance) where Christians in Europe and America tend to assume that other religions are basically Christianity with different names for things. Thus, I'd imagine that plenty of English speakers might call a pre-meal ritual "grace". On the other hand, as a somewhat religious American Jew, I have never heard anyone refer to the brachot we say before and after meals as grace.
    – Juhasz
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 19:34
  • 1
    Your question is about translating something originally written in one language into another language. It is a well-known and energetically argued dilemma. Does the translator give priority to easy readability or to convey to the reader something of culture of the original language community? The word 'itadakimasu' is a word over which some anglophones might have to do a double-take at first sight, so that the flow of reading might be interrupted on first encounter. There are reasonable arguments either way.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 21:58
  • 1
    @Juhasz Good points. And come to think of it, Christians have historically adapted pagan holidays and such in order to gain converts. And the Romans used to interpret other culture's gods as if they were their own gods but with different names. Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 22:52
  • 1
    @YosefBaskin, I guess that's not surprising, with Chabad's interest in, let's call it "outreach". I've eat a meal exactly one time with Chabadniks and if they said the word "grace" I must have blocked it out, or strategically erased the memory.
    – Juhasz
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 23:01
  • 1
    As an aside, these are unusual usages of 'say' as a transitive verb (say grace, say [one's] prayers) rather than a quotative one. Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 11:24

2 Answers 2

1

I'm guessing you are referring to the practice of saying "itadakimasu" before meals. According to several Quora answers, Japanese Christians typically say grace and then say "itadakimasu." So it would be misleading to describe the latter expression on its own as "saying grace," since then there would be no separate terms for these two separate actions.

3
  • 2
    To expand on this, "itadakimasu" means something like "humbly receive" and is generally used to mean "Thank you for the food". Who that thanks is aimed at depends on the situation and person. It might be your partner who made it, the chef in a restaurant, the farmers who grew the rice, or perhaps even the gods. For the most part, it is said casually and without much thought as part of culture that was ingrained from the age you could talk. Since this tradition doesn't exist in English, it is a nightmare for translators. You could translate it as "lets dig in" or as grace depending on context.
    – Kimbi
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 6:04
  • This is a response to the parenthetical example at the end of the question, but it does not address its far more general core: does grace imply that the ritual is Christian in nature or is it an apt word for such a ritual in any religion/culture?
    – jsw29
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 14:17
  • @jsw29 I think that that question will depend so much on the nature of the other ritual that no general answer is possible.
    – alphabet
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 16:38
1

Though it might not be possible to determine how common it is that "saying grace" is used to refer to other traditions besides Christianity, I have reviewed quotes through Google Books and thus can confirm that this type of conflation does happen.

I used these search terms: say grace, "say grace" Islam, "say grace" itadakimasu

With the first two search terms, I was able to see the term being used to refer to similar traditions in Judaism and Islam.

With the last search term, I was able to find conflation with the Japanese tradition. Some examples follow.

From an English translation of Laws and Customs of Israel:

it is proper to wait and unite to say Grace.

[...]

If three had eaten in company and one of them had forgotten about uniting to say Grace and had said the Grace privately [...]

[...]

At large banquets where many guests are present, it is right to choose someone to say Grace with a powerful voice, so that all present can hear him

From Islam, The Absolute Truth by Jameel Kermalli:

al-Majilsi (1627) reports that the Prophet (S) and ALi were once together in a gathering when poisoned food was brought before them. The Prophet requested Ali to say grace and thus he prayed, In the Name of God, the Giver of Health! In the Name of God, the All Sufficient! And in the Name of God, the Forgiver! In the Name of the Lord without Whose Permission Nothing is Injurious or Can INflict Pain on Earth or in Heaven! He Bears and Knows All Things! The whole parth then ate till they were satisfied, after which they were uninjured and harmless, they returned home.

From Inside Japanese Classrooms: The Heart of Education by Nancy Sato:

At 12:40, everyone is served, and the two toban say grace, "Itadakimasu" along with the rest of the students.

From Plastic Soul by Rowan Lake Jr:

"In our culture, chopsticks [...]" Neko's father [said].

[...]

Suddenly, Neko's father cleared his throat. Kisha looked up as her tempura shrimp fell from her chopstick and back onto her plate.

"Our culture also has a saying before we eat," Neko's father said with a stern look. "Don't you say grace before you eat?"

Kisha blushed. "Yes, I do. I guess I forgot. I'm sorry." "Don't sweat it, Kisha," Neko replied, trying to lighten the mood. "I never told you what the Japanese say before eating. Just repeat after me: Itadakimasu. E-ta-da-key-mass-sue."

Kisha pressed her lips together and began forming the syllables. After a few tries, she was able to properly say the Japanese grace with ease.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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