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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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A Word A Day — numen

Good morning, Netizens...

November 25, 2012

Word of the Day

  • numen
  • audio pronunciation
  • \NOO-mun\


: a spiritual force or influence often identified with a natural object, phenomenon, or place

We were in a village that had hardly changed in a thousand years, and we felt a numen that transcended earthly religions and human histories.

"For the Technology Man, the Internet is the glue that holds our globalized world together and the divine numen that fills it with meaning." — From a book review by Evgeny Morozov in The New Republic, November 3, 2011


How did "numen," a Latin term meaning "nod of the head," come to be associated with spiritual power? The answer lies in the fact that the ancient Romans saw divine force and power operating in the inanimate objects and nonhuman phenomena around them. They believed that the gods had the power to command events and to consent to actions, and the idea of a god nodding suggested his or her awesome abilities—divine power. Eventually, Latin speakers began using "numen" to describe the special divine force of any object, place, or phenomenon that inspired awe (a mystical-seeming wooded grove, for example, or the movement of the sun), and "numen" made the semantic leap from "nod" to "divine will or power." English speakers adopted the word during the 1600s.

Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.