An ode to panegyric
Words about words
M. Michael Brady
Words are means of expression that often are classified in registers, spectrums of usage reflecting factors such as social occasion, purpose, and audience. Panegyric is a word at the high end of the spectrum of words about words. It designates a public speech or writing in praise of an achievement, person, or thing, and is most used in laudatory discourse. Its etymology can be traced back to the Latin panēgyric-us, meaning “public eulogy” that was adapted into the French panégyrique (as documented in the benchmark reference by Adolphe Hatzfeld, & Arséne Darmesteter, Dictionnaire général de la langue française, published in 1890). In the early 17th century, it was adapted into other European languages, including English and Norwegian (via Danish).
It first appeared in print in English in 1603, in a small monograph by English poet and historian Samuel Daniel (1562-1619), entitled A Panegyrike Congratulatorie delivered to the Kings most excellent Majestie. The King was James VI and I (1566-1625), King of Scotland as James VI from 1567 and as James I of England and Ireland from the union in 1603 of the Scottish and English crowns. There’s no record of what the new King James I thought of Daniel’s congratulatory work, most likely because he was busy preparing for the January 1604 Hampton Court Conference that conceived a new translation of the Bible now known as the King James Version, one of the landmark books of the culture of English-speaking peoples. Despite the King’s lack of interest, Samuel Daniel’s monograph was printed in several versions. Today a modern 90-page paperback edition published in 2010 is stocked by Amazon.com at $18.75.
In Norwegian, panegyrikk remains a high-minded word used in tributes and formal expressions of praise. In everyday life, it’s a seldom-seen word, used mostly in scholarly works of the literary sector. But in ecclesial affairs, it’s the term for a familiar element of the Lutheran Liturgy, the lovsang (“Hymn of Praise” or “paean,” a song form of panegyric), such as the “Gloria,” short for the name of the Christian hymn “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” the first phrase of verse Luke 2:14 of the Bible, translated from Latin to the English “Glory to God in the highest” and the Norwegian “Ære være Gud i det høyeste,”* sung in Church of Norway services throughout the country.
* Wordings of translated verses vary; those here are from the dual-language Det Nye Testamente / The New Testament, Oslo, Norsk Bibel 1992.
M. Michael Brady was educated as a scientist and, with time, turned to writing and translating.
This article originally appeared in the April 6, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.