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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(adj.) full of sorrow or regret, lamenting

To most people, the name Ichabod will be best known thanks to Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the main protagonist of which—who tackles the Headless Horseman in the eponymous New England village of Sleepy Hollow—is named Ichabod Crane.

But there’s little in this Ichabod’s character to suggest that he should have inspired this word, Ichabodian—which means ‘regretful’ or ‘full of lamentation’.

So where did that come from? The answer (as with a lot of peculiar eponymic words like this one) lies in the Bible.

According to the First Book of Samuel, Ichabod is the name of the son of Phinehas, who was himself one of the sons of the High Priest of Shiloh, Eli.

Alongside his brother Hophni, Phinehas too was a High Priest—but unlike their pious father, the brothers took advantage of their position at Shiloh, and were widely known for their wickedness, unfairness, adultery, and abuse of power. Eli knew of his sons’ indiscretions but failed repeatedly to rebuke them harshly enough. Consequently, they continued their wicked ways—despite Eli knowing of a prophesy that they would all face divine punishment if they did not change their ways.

As events play out, both Hophni and Phinehas are eventually killed by the Philistines in an attack on the Israelites at Eben-Ezer, in which the Ark of the Covenant is stolen. On hearing of both the death of his sons and the loss of the Ark, Eli is said to have fallen backwards out of his throne in shock and broken his neck. Just as the prophesy had predicted, all three men died on the same day.

On hearing of the death of both her husband and her father-in-law, meanwhile, Phinehas’ wife (who goes unnamed in the story) is said to have immediately gone into labour, and delivered her and Phinehas’ son prematurely. She later dies in childbirth, repeatedly muttering the Hebrew word ’iykabod—variously interpreted as ‘the glory of Israel is gone’, or ‘where is the glory?’

This word was ultimately given to her and Phinehas’ now orphaned newborn son, who became Ichabod—the origin of this peculiar adjective.


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