Marina Warner’s LRB review of Silence: A Christian History, by Diarmaid MacCulloch, includes the following sentence: “The different churches provided socially bonding rituals (as conveyed by the word religion, from religio, ‘I bind together again’).” In the first place, there is no Latin verb “religio“; she means religo. That could, of course, be a typo or editing error, and I’m not going to make a federal case of it. But the verb religo does not mean ‘bind together again,’ it means ‘tie up/down, hold firmly in place,’ and that’s a pretty embarrassing error if you ask me; back in the days when everyone studied Latin, it would never have been made, or if made would never have found its way into print. Furthermore, the idea that religio comes from religo is plausible-looking but far from certain. The OED says it’s “re– prefix + a second element of uncertain origin; by Cicero connected with relegere to read over again, so that the supposed original sense of ‘religion’ would have been ‘painstaking observance of rites’, but by later authors (especially by early Christian writers) with religāre,” adding “Each view finds supporters among modern scholars.” Modern dictionaries say “perhaps” in their etymologies for the word, and much as I deplore the use of etymology to make philosophical or social points about words, if you’re going to go down that path you should at least make sure you have a sturdy etymology to lean on.
Vaguely related: I was watching an early Fassbinder movie set in Munich when one of the characters ordered Leberkäse and the subtitle said “meatloaf.” I raised my eyebrows (surely Leberkäse means ‘liver-cheese,’ whatever revolting dish that might imply?), paused the DVD, and headed for my biggest German dictionary, which said that, sure enough, Leberkäse is meatloaf. So I went to Wikipedia, which told me that “Linguists believe that the etymology of the word either involves the Middle High German word lab (to clot) or the word laib (loaf), and the Slavic root quas (feast).” Citation needed indeed! Does anybody know more about this? At any rate, I’m relieved to know that if I’m ever in a German-speaking land I can order Leberkäse without fear.