Good News, Facebook! The Root Word for 'Paradise' Originally Meant 'Walled Garden'

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Just saying.

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Richard Mortel/Panoramio

I happened to be poking into the history of the word, "dough," and it turns out it derives its name from an Indo-European root ("dheigh") that meant "to form, to build." That got bent to mean wall (daēza) in an ancient Iranian language, including the walls that surrounded gardens (pairidaēza). Run a few permutations, described below, and Xenopohon ends up using the word "paradeisos," which he used to refer to the walled gardens of Persia. The word got applied to Eden in a key translation of the Bible, and voila, the modern meaning of paradise was born. Yes, I learned this key piece of tech trivia by reading the dictionary:

The old Iranian language Avestan had a noun pairidaēza-, "a wall enclosing a garden or orchard," which is composed of pairi-, "around," and daēza- "wall." The adverb and preposition pairi is related to the equivalent Greek form peri, as in perimeter. Daēza- comes from the Indo-European root *dheigh-, "to mold, form, shape." Zoroastrian religion encouraged maintaining arbors, orchards, and gardens, and even the kings of austere Sparta were edified by seeing the Great King of Persia planting and maintaining his own trees in his own garden. Xenophon, a Greek mercenary soldier who spent some time in the Persian army and later wrote histories, recorded the pairidaēza- surrounding the orchard as paradeisos, using it not to refer to the wall itself but to the huge parks that Persian nobles loved to build and hunt in. This Greek word was used in the Septuagint translation of Genesis to refer to the Garden of Eden, whence Old English eventually borrowed it around 1200.

File this one in your "humorous etymology" bookmark folder. Wait, you don't have one? Cretin.



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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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