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Earliest attestation of the Germanic word in the 6th century Codex Argenteus (Mt 5:9)

The English word God continues the Old English God (guþ, gudis in Gothic, gud in modern Scandinavian, God in Dutch, and Gott in modern German), which derives from the Proto-Germanic *ǥuđán.


Proto-Germanic meaning

The Proto-Germanic meaning of *ǥuđán and its etymology is uncertain. It is generally agreed that it derives from a Proto-Indo-European neuter passive perfect participle *ǵʰu-tó-m. This form within (late) Proto-Indo-European itself was possibly ambiguous, either derived from a root *ǵʰeu̯- "to pour, libate" (Sanskrit huta, see hotṛ), or from a root *ǵʰau̯- (*ǵʰeu̯h2-) "to call, to invoke" (Sanskrit hūta). Sanskrit hutá = "having been sacrificed", from the verb root hu = "sacrifice", but a smallish shift of meaning could give the meaning "one who sacrifices are made to".

Depending on which possibility is preferred, the pre-Christian meaning of the Germanic term may either have been (in the "pouring" case) "libation" or "that which is libated upon, idol" — or, as Watkins[1] opines in the light of Greek χυτη γαια "poured earth" meaning "tumulus", "the Germanic form may have referred in the first instance to the spirit immanent in a burial mound" — or (in the "invoke" case) "invocation, prayer" (compare the meanings of Sanskrit brahman) or "that which is invoked".

Previous interpretations

Both the Philologists Grimm and Max Muller concluded that the word 'god' is probably not related to the word 'good', and that they could not trace the word god to any definite root. Others, such as Morgan Peter Kavenaugh, in his book The Origin of Language and Myths, claim that the word god was taken from the Buddha's patriarchal name of Gotama, Godama, Gautama, among other variations. He further claimed that this title assigned to the Buddha, became many words, such as in English the words, foot, boot, best, better and good. Others have come to a similar conclusion such as the Historian John Campbell who wrote; " I have shown elsewhere that the English word God, the German Gott, the Persian Bhoda and the Hindustani Khuda are all derived from the same root as that which appears in Celtic Aeddon or Guydion, the Germanin Odin, Woden or Goutan and the Indian Buddha or Gotama”"[2]

The Reverend Henry Scadding D.D. gives a similar etymology to God/god, from The Canadian Journal of Science and Literature and History, 1880 p. 302, he writes;

“The same writer (Max Muller) says, “God was most likely an old heathen name of the Deity” Now we are acquainted with the old heathen names of the Deity among the northern peoples who make use of this word; and the nearest to it of these names is that of the Lombard and Westphalia Guodan. In the Germanic languages the name appears in such forms as to show either that the initial g is not an essential part of the root, or that it marks the original presence of a letter similar to the Hebrew __, which might be retained as a broad vowel, a simple breathing, or a guttural. I hold to the latter opinion, and find the rendering by the broad vowel in Odin, Oden of the Scandinavian. Grimm connects Gwydion, son of Don, of the Welsh mythology, with Odin, making them the same person. It is hard to distinguish this personage from Aeddon, who is Buddwas, and who came from the region of Gwydion. Aeddon presents us with the same form of the root as Odin, while Gwydion is guttural, like Guodan. The prefix of the Coptic article to the vowel form would give some such word as Bodan or Boudan; but, with the aspirate, it would make the Maesogothic Vodans and the old Saxon Wuodan or Wodan, which the old High German, strictly in accordance with Grimm’s law, changes to Woutan. Then final n, which so far has appeared in every form of our word, in nit an essential part of it. The Frisian Weda drops it, and it is wanting in the Welsh Aedd, in which we see the Danish Gud and the German Gott. Now this is the same as the Choda of the Persian, a language that has many remarkable points of resemblance to the Germanic tongues. The same word is found in the Sanskrit, and survives in the Hindustani Khuda. But the names of Buddha, which are by no means well understood, are simply names for God with the termination restored, not as n, but as m. These are Codam, Godama, or Gautama; and give us back again the Gotan and Goutan of the Teutonic dialects. A link of great importance is furnished by a name of Woden, Wegtam, the Wanderer, which preserves the initial g along with the softened form of the Coptic article, and gives the termination of Gautama. Buddha, different as it appears in every respect from the word with which it is often ignorantly joined, is in reality the same, having doubtless come into the Sanskrit through some other channel then that by which Gautama entered. In it we find the final liquid wanting, the German w, in plain disregard for Grimm’s law, changed to b, and the Frisian Weda reproduced. In confirmation of this I may refer to the case of identity already established between the Germanic wot or wout and the Sanskrit budh, to perceive or know, of which the Welsh form is by no accidental coincidence gwyddoni. Thus in Buddha, Wotan and Gwydion we find not only the supreme god of the northern families of the Aryan stock, but also the symbol of knowledge among those different peoples”

Both Kavenaugh and Scadding's attempts to link Buddha's patriarchal name Gautama to the modern word God, are severely outdated.[citation needed] Additionally, Scadding's terminology is imprecise and his views are shaped by his time, which was at the dawn of modern historical linguistics. He has, however, some points which are valid, for instance his recognition of the cognates in Persian and modern Hindustani.

Germanic tribes

A significant number of scholars have connected this root with the names of three related Germanic tribes: the Geats, the Goths and the Gutar. These names may be derived from an eponymous chieftain Gaut, who was subsequently deified.[citation needed] He also sometimes appears in early Medieval sagas as a name of Odin or one of his descendants, a former king of the Geats (Gaut(i)), an ancestor of the Gutar (Guti), of the Goths (Gothus) and of the royal line of Wessex (Geats) and as a previous hero of the Goths (Gapt). Some variant forms of the name Odin such as the Lombardic Godan may point in the direction that the Lombardic form actually comes from Proto-Germanic *ǥuđánaz.


The name God was used to represent Greek Theos, Latin Deus in Bible translations, first in the Gothic translation of the New Testament by Ulfilas. For the etymology of deus, see *dyēus.

Greek theos is unrelated, and of uncertain origin. It is often connected with Latin feriae "holidays", fanum "temple", and also Armenian di-k` "gods". Alternative suggestions (e.g. by De Saussure) connect *dhu̯es- "smoke, spirit", attested in Baltic and Germanic words for "spook," and ultimately cognate with Latin fumus "smoke."


KJV of 1611 (Psalms 23:1,2): Occurrence of "LORD" (and "God" in the heading)

The development of English orthography was dominated by Christian texts. Capitalized, "God" was first used to refer to the Judeo-Christian concept and may now signify any monotheistic conception of God, including the translations of the Arabic Allāh, Indic Ishvara and the African Masai Engai.

  • Adonai YHWH as "Lord GOD"
  • YHWH Elohim as "LORD God"
  • κυριος ο θεος As "LORD God" (in the New Testament)

The use of capitalization, as for a proper noun, has persisted to disambiguate the concept of a singular God, specifically the Christian God, from pagan deities for which lower case god has continued to be applied, mirroring the use of Latin deus. Pronouns referring to God are also often capitalized and are traditionally in the masculine gender, i.e. "He", "His" etc. However, in more recent times, some people have referred to God in feminine terms, such as "She" and "Her". (See: God and gender).[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Watkins, Calvert, ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000.
  2. ^ Congres international des americanistes page 353


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