Challenging Word of the Week: numinous


(NOOH muh nus, NYOOH-) n. adj.

Anything described as numinous is spiritual, has a sacred quality, is mysterious and awe-inspiring. Numen (NOOH mun) is literally, “nod” in Latin, related to the verb nutare (to nod, or keep nodding), and by extension came to mean “divine will” (as indicated by the nod of a god). Numen was taken over intact, to mean “divine power” or “spirit,” and gave rise to the adjective numinous, which denotes a quality that is divine, especially in the sense that it is beyond human understanding. There is something numinous in the late quartets of Beethoven. Dark forests have a numinous quality that inspires reverence and awe. The Roman satirist Juvenal (60-c. 130) wrote that if people had foresight, Fortuna wouldn’t be a goddess — she would have no numen.

This selection is taken from the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House.

My example: Violent Islamists claim to be acting upon a numinous mandate. One has to wonder, however, how much numen their god possesses if he needs their intervention to settle his scores.

I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it.

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