Thinking of paradise today will put you in mind of the afterlife, perhaps religious notions of a wonderful heaven. Your mind might go to the Garden of Eden from the Bible.
And if it does, you would be right, at least for the first step on our journey. The word “paradise” came into English in the late 12th century from Old French paradis, which was used to denote the Garden of Eden, and in a more general sense “paradise” as we know it today. It came from Late Latin paradisus, with the same meaning. This in turn developed from ancient Greek παράδεισος (paradeisos), probably through religious influences, as it was also used to mean ‘Garden of Eden”. However, that is not all. Greek also used the word for “park”, long before Christianity spread the Eden reference throughout Europe.
Despite the Hellenic appearance of the word, with the prefix “para” so common in words of Greek origin, and indeed in many Greek words today, in fact “paradise” comes from further afield. Greek took it from Persian *pardez, from Avestan pairi-daeza, which meant “walled enclosure”. The first part of that, pairi, meant “around” and is a cognate of the Greek prefix περί- (peri), which we can see in such English borrowings from Greek as “perimetre” and “period”. Not only that, but Old English fore, meaning “in front of” or, still seen in this form today, of course, “before”, also shares a root with this preposition. And indeed “park” may ultimately come from the same source.
The second part, daeza, meant “wall”, and comes from a root meaning “make, build”. This is thought to have developed from Proto-Indo-European root *dheigh-, meaning “to shape, build, knead”. Interestingly, this is also the ultimate source of the English word “dough”, and the Latin fingere, which gives us “figure” in Modern English (both to be examined more fully in forthcoming articles).
How strange to think of dough, figure and paradise, with very different meanings today, all having come from the same source!