Some time in the small hours of the morning I ended up looking up assorted words for monks.
... I started out looking up gender neutral terms for sibling, because sister brother sibling doesn't sound like they're a matched set, mother father brother sister all match and yet you can't say parent and sibling and have it sound the same, does this not bug anyone else at three in the morning?
... smartphones have some odd perils.
But the more I looked the more I got annoyed at fantasy books and their imprecise worldbuilding. Like D&D uses Cleric and Monk as more or less gender neutral terms that cover a really wide
range of religious roles. Or fantasy worlds have multiple religions but half of them call their ladies Sister and men Brother. And why would they do that? What is the religious underpinning of that phrasing? What theological basis has them calling some people Father? Father and brother and sister and mother of who or what? And are any of them married? The widespread assumption of religious celibacy seems purely weird to the C of E, let alone the rest of the world's religions.
Wiki wandering got me to distinctions like 'nun' and 'sister' not
actually referring to the same thing, since nuns are cloistered and sisters work in the community. Monastics
is currently used as gender neutral, and is quite different from monk, which differs from friar, usually used for mendicant orders. There's a difference between monks, owning all their property in common between them, and mendicants, who in theory don't own anything at all at all and have to rely on asking the laity nicely every single day. Monk derives from monos, alone, because originally it referred to hermits or solitary ascetics. Hermits are eremites, and eremitic orders exist. Anchorites and anchoresses are kind of like hermits but different. Sometimes a lot of hermits get together and share a canteen and church, and such orders are probably where communal monasticism began, but there's a great big argue about who was first doing what, so only probably. Sketes or Lavras are that sort of thing. Different forms of monasticism include sketes, lavritic, eremitic and coenobitic
. Cenobites, before that one guy wrote that one thing, just means monastics living in a community where they don't all mostly hide in their cells, which is the usual sort people mostly think of when you say monk.
They live in monasteries and abbeys and minsters, and that's just words I recognise off the top of my head. They're slightly different kinds of communities even at any given point in history. Due to constant/repeated monastic and religious reforms they're very
different if you look at them a few hundred years apart. I mean at some points there were communities where men and women lived together being religious, and at other points there's big frowning about the very idea, and now we don't have a proper word for those sorts and say 'dual house' and make vague noises about monasteries and nunneries next door to each other when really? We don't entirely know how they sorted themselves out.
And that's just in English. At some point I (accidentally) downloaded a 125 page MPhil thesis on the different words used in the Anglo Saxon era, in Latin and Old English, and how they get translated into English. I skimmed like a chapter but it seems like every time a thing gets translated it uses less variety of words to describe the religious people it's talking about, which erases consistent distinctions in the earlier texts, distinctions that probably had a meaning, though for all we know now it's some dude doing the monk equivalent of 'the fair haired man' and 'the brunet' because everyone they're talking about is basically going to be a religious dude so maybe they were just trying to keep them distinctive.
And that's just in Christianity
. Buddhism has a lot of slightly different traditions of people living in community to do religion, and those traditions have different levels or paths with different sets of vows, and once they're talking about them in English they're all just 'monks'. Even some of the nuns sometimes.
And of course there's religions that mostly don't do the thing that looks quite like being monks, and possibly do have friars, but mostly
have their very own distinctive traditions that we probably shouldn't translate, except for the thing where several hundred years of confident English have just been calling them 'priests'.
And where does the D&D cleric come into all this? Depends what you read. It's another distinction that gets complex.
And I haven't even started on religious ranks and roles, where there's as many words for monks-that-do-the-thing as there are for civilians-that-do-the-thing, being far as I can tell separate words even for the same things.
And then there's the ways Roman religion and Roman Catholicism got their terms all over each other, as well as the ways they didn't and times where you have to get your head around a very different way of doing things just to properly translate in your head a word usually rendered into English as 'priest' just like all the other 'priests'.
And the etymologies that leave words meaning their opposites, or the particular journeys through language a word has taken that tells you a lot about conquest and missionaries and how civilisations layer on top of each other.
And yet you get fantasy books, or rarely science fiction, that just plonk in a few 'Sisters' or 'Fathers' and act like that sufficiently explains anything.
... I think from this we mostly learn that I can get thoroughly wound up about anything
, especially at three in the morning, but there you go.
Words. Especially titles. More complex than you think.
And once we start messing around with the worldbuilding, shakier than they seem and all.