Nathan Bierma nbierm65 at CALVIN.EDU
Fri Mar 16 16:16:04 UTC 2007

Nathan Bierma
"On Language"

NOTE: As of today, "On Language" begins appearing on Fridays in the Chicago

Journey was once the work of just a day, not a lifetime

By Nathan Bierma
March 16, 2007

It used to be that a "journey" was all in a day's work. Now it takes a

A new Hallmark line of cards called "Journeys" shows that the word "journey,"
originally a literal unit of time and travel, has become a metaphor for the
experience of living life with all its ups and downs.

The word "journey," from the French "la journee," traces back to the Latin
"diurnata," literally meaning "by day." "The original meaning in French was
'daily,'" says etymologist Anatoly Liberman, author of "Word Origins and How We
Know Them" (Oxford University Press, 312 pages, $25). "In Old French the
adjective ... began to function as a noun [and] acquired the vague meaning of
'a day's work, occupation, or trip,' and even 'day.'"

The same meanings carried over into English. A writer in the 1400s says, "52
journeys from this land ... there is another land that men call Lamary." That
means it took 52 days' worth of travel to get to Lamary.

The verb "to journey" was also in use at that time: A source from 1330 says,
"He journeyed then from land to land."

But writers of the era also were using "journey" as a metaphor for life
progression or experiences. Around the year 1440, Bishop Reginald Pecock wrote
in his book "The Rule of Christian Religion," "No man might fulfill his ghostly
[spiritual] journey of virtuous living ... without thy grace."

The meaning of actual travel has not disappeared from our modern use of the
word "journey." The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as "an act of
traveling from one place to another," and adds that unlike the word "trip," the
word "journey" "suggests that a considerable amount of time and distance will
be covered, and that the travel will take place over land."

But the figurative meaning of "journey" has become one of its most common uses
today. It's what lies behind the new line of Hallmark cards for people going
through difficult life circumstances.

"When we started talking to people, they told us they needed cards for events
that really do happen in life," Hallmark said in a press release. "Basically,
they gave us permission to talk about these specific, sometimes scary life
moments" -- including a cancer diagnosis, depression, coming out of the closet
and caring for an aging parent.

Hallmark is picking up on a familiar metaphor. Jenna Bush, daughter of the
president and first lady, announced last week she is working on a book about a
teenage single mother who is HIV positive. The title is "Ana's Story: A Journey
of Hope."

A recent Baltimore Sun article about a high school basketball team read, "The
situation that accompanies this year's journey to tomorrow's Class 1A game is
altogether different from last year."

The figurative use of "journey" has become so common that you can hear its
overtones no matter how the word is used.

For example, when the Boston Globe wrote in a caption last week that "the
aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy left Boston Harbor yesterday for its
journey to Florida for decommissioning," it was talking about a trip on the
ocean, and yet I wondered if the caption used the word "journey" because the
trip will mean the end of the ship's life cycle.

Or when the Globe wrote about "Well," which is an "autobiographical play
[that] traces Lisa Kron's journey away from and back to her suburban Michigan
home, bringing together a host of lively characters to tell her story" -- it
sounds like the "journey" wasn't just a trip to and from her house.

Today, "journey" has become such an abstract idea that you don't even have to
leave home to have one. Or to get a Hallmark card.

Write to Nathan Bierma at onlanguage at gmail. com
Copyright (c) 2007, Chicago Tribune,1,4123009.story

Nathan Bierma writes the weekly "On Language" column in the Chicago Tribune.
He is also contributing editor to Books & Culture magazine, and has taught
writing at Calvin College, where he works as communications and research
coordinator for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. His website is

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