• atonement •
ê-ton-mênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: 1. Making up for past misdeeds, transgressions; making amends for an injury or offense. 2. Reconciliation, especially the reconciliation between God and humans.
Notes: Today is Yom Kippur, the final day of the Jewish High Holidays (literally, the Days of Awe), the ten days beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur. In Hebrew Yom Kippur means "Day of Atonement" and is the holiest day of the Jewish year. According to Leviticus, the high priest chose two goats on Yom Kippur. One was sacrificed and the other served as the Azazel or (e)scapegoat. The high priest laid his hands upon the Azazel, symbolically endowing it with the sins of Israel, then sent the goat into the desert, carrying all those sins with it. That is why today scapegoat refers to someone who is blamed for the sins of others.
In Play: Although atonement is generally associated with religion, lay applications of this word abound: "How can I ever atone for leaving the kids at the supermarket?" This word refers to the price of forgiveness: "Francine told me that she would accept a new Mercedes as atonement for my smoking cigars in the Volvo."
Word History: Today's word is an early 16th century creation from at + one under the influence of Latin ad-una-mentum "unity". It was assisted by the prior existence of the verb, to one "to make one, unite". Onement was already used by the Bible translator John Wyclif in the 14th century. This noun was influenced by such frequent phrases as "set at one" and "put at one", so that atonement began to replace onement early in the 16th century. Atone, formed by back derivation from atonement, began to replace the verb to one about 1550. Later on, at + one was reanalyzed as a+tone, giving the current misleading pronunciation. (Today all of us here at The Lexiteria wish all our Jewish readers Gut Yom Tov!)