“The city of New Heaven has plans for development.”

Has my student had an apocalyptic vision? A revelation? Has she, like John, seen “a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1, KJV)?

Has the End Time already come, and the New Heaven is being expanded to accommodate more, or more demanding, angels? Or is it being renovated? modernized?

Perhaps the city of New Heaven is here in Connecticut, along with Bethel, Bethlehem, Canaan, Goshen, Hebron, New Canaan, Salem, Sharon, our biblically-named towns—thanks to the settlers who thought they might be establishing a heaven on earth (or a reasonable facsimile).

Well, of course it’s in Connecticut. But Heaven, original or new, it ain’t: it’s only good old New Haven.

“Heaven” and “haven” look a lot alike but are not etymologically close. “Haven” means “harbor, a place of safety.” It’s from the middle English, claims Webster, and linked to Middle High German. But Webster’s says that “haven” has its earlier roots in the Old English word ˆhebben,”  “to lift” or “to heave,” although “havana” seems to be Spanish for “harbor” or “port,” and one must ask how the Spanish would have been borrowing from the Old English wordstock…Hmm. Turning to the Online Etymological Dictionary, on the other hand, we read that “haven” is descended from the Old English “haefen,” in its turn linked with a Germanic root meaning “have” or “hold.” Certainly more romantic than “heave,” but still not divine.

Be that as it may.

Webster’s also traces “heaven” to Old English, this time to “heofon,” thus Middle English “heven,” and links it with the Old High German “himil” (modern German writes “Himmel”). That latter doesn’t sound all that much like “heaven,” but again, be that as it may.

But the two words seem as if they should be close relatives. After all, “heaven” is a blissful and safe place up in the sky (they say), and a “haven” is a sweet and safe place where sea meets land—or just any sweet and safe place, protected from the pursuing foe.

Still, when our Puritan forebears named the city of New Haven, holy though their thoughts may have been generally, they were thinking at that moment of harbors, not spiritual destinations.

And my student wasn’t writing about the afterlife, either; she was merely discussing a property dispute in a coastal city.

We’re just looking at an uncorrected typo (this example does not precede Spellcheck, but it does precede Autocorrect). But in the same batch of essays I got one that mentioned turning to our elected officials for assistance in resolving such disputes, and that student mentioned specifically Senator Christopher Dodd. But he didn’t call him “Senator Christopher Dodd”; he called him “Christ Dodd.” Another slip of the typing finger, or are we looking at a whole freshman writing class living on earth but contemplating a dwellingplace above? (The possibility that that student thinks Congress is populated by messiahs, or has divine powers, I really, really don’t want to contemplate!)

Was I dealing with students whose minds were so fully fixed on higher things that instead of Freudian slips they were having Christian slips?

Or perhaps these students actually had wanted to get into Yale but had had to settle for a more terrestrial, albeit also a more church-related, school. In that case, could they think of New Haven as an academic heaven that was closed to them?

Naaah. New Heaven, Christ Dodd—really, really, just typos. But manna for a reader’s mind wandering in the wilderness of freshman prose.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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