epiphany and satori

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Tue Feb 5 22:52:04 UTC 2013

Like satori, I use the word "epiphany" to mean a sudden enlightenment that feels awesome.

Wiktionary nails it for me (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/epiphany): "An illuminating realization or discovery, often resulting in a personal feeling of elation, awe, or wonder."

The AHD seems too restrictive: "A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization." I don't see why reality has to be involved per se.

The OED simply needs updating.

The ADS list has a large number of uses, which seem to agree with the AHD. The oldest is 1999 by Natalie Maynor (http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ADS-L;Xgp47A;199906221836550500D): "Yes -- even though my epiphany didn't come until after finishing three 100% lit degrees." 


As to satori, all three dictionaries seem too restrictive as they all designate it as a Zen term even though examples provided in Wiktionary and the OED demonstrate that it's not. The AHD doesn't have citations, but it also has the claim that satori "often comes suddenly." Is it ever the case that satori is an extended process?

Two examples from the ADS further demonstrate that satori is not limited to Zen:

http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ADS-L;5%2F8w5g;200508211845450400C (cited by Ben Zimmer): "Finally, he ends up dexed-up and pissed out of his brain on a rock off Brighton Beach where he achieves some kind of satori and reconciliation with himself."

http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ADS-L;iUb2Gw;200109230418560500D (by Mike Salovesh): "Once in a while, when the cultural wind is in the right direction, an occasional gringo achieves a Zen satori in these matters." 

Zen is clearly not in play in these sentences, except perhaps in the loosest English sense.

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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