Weekends are when many Americans gather in their respective houses of worship and repeat the same word: amen. But, what does the word mean? And, why do people say it?
The origins of amen
Amen is commonly used after a prayer, creed, or other formal statement. It is spoken to express solemn ratification or agreement. It is used adverbially to mean “certainly,” “it is so,” or “so it be.” Amen can be used in formal prayers within a prescribed script. But it is also used to punctuate personal prayers as well.
Amen can also be used as an affirmation outside of religious settings. If you call out, “We need access to quality education for all children,” there are those who might respond, “Amen!”
The word can also be used in a lighthearted, playful way: “Dinner is finally ready—amen!” And the joke “amen and a woman” dates back to the 1850s. All puns aside, however, where does the word come from?
Amen is derived from the Hebrew āmēn, which means “certainty,” “truth,” and “verily.” It is found in the Hebrew Bible, and in both the Old and New Testament. In English, the word has two primary pronunciations: [ ah-men ] or [ ey-men ]. But, it can be expressed in endless ways, from a soft whisper to a joyous shout. Either way, it has nothing to do with the words man or men—or their origins.
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Who says amen?
Modern worshippers of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all use a version of the word, and records indicate that it has been used as an expression of concurrence after prayer for centuries.
In Judaism, congregants say amen in response to the words of the rabbi, or spiritual leader. The term appears as part of a number Jewish prayers.
In Christianity, amen occupies a central but often spontaneous position at the end of prayers or as a personal expression of affirmation for another’s words during a sermon or other religious discourse.
Islam, like Judaism, incorporates a more formal use of the word into ritual but also deems it an appropriate way to end any sort of prayer. Rather than amen, Muslims generally says āmīn.
In Egyptian mythology, Amen, or Amon, was a deity represented by a ram, the god of life and reproduction. It’s just a coincidence that the word amen resembles this deity’s name. The ancient Egyptian god has no relationship to the Hebrew declaration of affirmation.
When we pray, almost anything goes: dancing, whirling, kneeling, or swaying. And, words of affirmation are almost always spoken. Amen is certainly one. What are others?