Awakenings: Peace Dictionary, Language and the Mind, a Daily Brain Health Program by Kimberly Burnham


In English the letters P E A C E don't have individual meanings. The letter P or the letter E doesn't mean something by itself. In some other languages the letters or the building blocks of the word have particular meanings. In several languages the word for Peace can also be said as a greeting or hello. We will explore that later.  

English speakers have a sense of what these letters strung together mean because we have assigned a meaning to the word, PEACE. English speakers are not the only people who have influenced this word—this concept, this way of being in the world. Speakers of Anglo-French, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian and Greek as well as modern English breathe life and sound into this focus of so much desire, Peace.

The Online Etymological Dictionary describes the word's history in this way:

"peace (n.) mid-12 century,

"freedom from civil disorder," from Anglo-French pes,

Old French pais "peace, reconciliation, silence, permission" (11c., Modern French paix),

from Latin pacem (nominative pax) "compact, agreement, treaty of peace, tranquility, absence of war" (source of Provençal patz, Spanish paz, Italian pace),

from PIE root *pag- "to fasten" (which is the source also of Latin pacisci "to covenant or agree;" see pact),

on the notion of "a binding together" by treaty or agreement.

Replaced Old English frið, also sibb, which also meant "happiness."

Modern spelling is 1500s, reflecting vowel shift.

Sense in peace of mind is from c.1200.

Used in various greetings from c. 1300,

from Biblical Latin pax,

Greek eirene, which were used by translators to render

Hebrew shalom, properly "safety, welfare, prosperity."

Sense of "quiet" is attested by 1300;

meaning "absence or cessation of war or hostility" is attested from c. 1300.

As a type of hybrid tea rose (developed 1939 in France by François Meilland), so called from 1944.

Native American peace pipe is first recorded 1760.

Peace-officer attested from 1714.

Peace offering is from 1530s.

Phrase peace with honor first recorded 1607 (in "Coriolanus").

The U.S. Peace Corps was set up March 1, 1962.

Peace sign, both the hand gesture and the graphic, attested from 1968."

 Online Etymological Dictionary 


   Let's unpack some of the meanings and usages.

   In the early meaning "freedom from civil disorder," peace is juxtaposed against what it is not—disorder and embedded in that meaning is freedom.

    Someone shouting peace in a raucous contention room full of people is an order or an action demanded "reconcile or be silent" or it can be a request to speak, "permission" and "quiet."

    A "peace treaty" makes peace an adjective, a description of the kind of agreement the parties have. "Compact, agreement, treaty of peace, tranquility, absence or cessation of war or hostility" describes a desire for tranquility and again what we don't want—war.

   When we say we want peace, it is relatively clear what we don't want but what do we want? Brain research shows that it is easier for our brains to reach out for what we want than to let go of what we don't want. What do we truly want when we say we want peace?

    There is also within the meaning of peace contained the building of relationships—"to fasten, to covenant or agree, a binding together." It implies a relationship without defining the strength of the binding or to what we are bound. Every day we have to expand and add those words defining what kind of peace and with whom do we want peace.

    Peace replaced frið and sibb from Old English. With that change did it take our happiness and peace of mind, our safety, welfare and prosperity? Without putting happiness back into the meaning can we find either peace or happiness?

    A peace offering or a peace sign in a ceremony with a Native American peace pipe becomes a shining symbol of the feeling, desire and commitment to peace. In the U.S. Peace Corps, peace describing the kind of men and women we offer up for service to the world. Do they live up to their name? Do we?

    And the word peace in every other language has its own unique history that contributes to what the person means when they say in their own language, "I want world peace."


 Haiku Peace


peace shalom salaam

shalom salaam peace hopeful

salaam peace shalom


   This book of prose and poetry explores what we, the people of the world mean when we express our desire for peace or shalom or salaam or ....

   Some people who only speak one language think that other languages are just different ways to say the same thing. Any polyglot knows that is not true. Even though we translate words in our head, sometimes almost seamlessly from one language to another we are only pretending to believe that exact one word for one word translation is possible. What a word means is influenced by it's history and even an individual experience of that world in the foreign or second language.

    There is a word in Japanese, natsukashi which is sometimes translated nostalgic. Even so, non-native Japanese speakers can have a sense that is very difficult to describe in English but natsukashi is not the same thing as nostalgic. There are subtle nuances and experiences that color this word.

    Here we begin to explore what nuances influence the word peace in a variety of languages.

    It is our hope that by better understanding this word and what it means around the world, we can find inner peace in our hearts and souls. We hope to create an understand, a peace treaty at the boundaries where one meet one, because we are both one and no one is the other in a world with peace.

    In his autobiography, Born a Crime, Trevor Noah explained, “Nelson Mandela once said, 'If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.' He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else's language, even if it's just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, 'I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being”

    If each of the seven billion people on this planet could feel in their hearts the power and rhythm of peace in a dozen or more different languages, what would change?

    Want to help us find out?


Here are three poems as an example from the blue Na’vi people of Pandora. This language was created by Dr. Paul Frommer for James Cameron’s film, Avatar.




Interconnected tree roots

the entire natural world




through connection

mentally and physically

calmly taking in nature

the texture of happiness

joyous all through the peaceful night

dreaming and wishing for connection

waiting for the sense of nature  as intended

slow is fine


Your Part of the World


Aytele a ngeyä hapxìmì kifkeyä lu fyape?

How are things in your part of the world?

I hope it is Nav'i peaceful

fpomronga I wish you health

peace and happiness of the mind

fpomtokx of the physical body

lefpom pleasant and peaceful journey

may you nìmwey come calmly


Are you well?


Ngaru Lu Fpom Srak?

fpom ronsem fpom tokx

lefpom mimwey txon lefpom

nìrangal säsìlpey zo zìmtswo


A Nav'i idiom: "fwa kan ke tam; zene swizawit livonu" —To aim is not enough; one must release the arrow or in other words intent is not enough; it’s action that counts.