Q. I see the use of "charismatic" to describe religious sects that believe in faith healing, speaking in tongues, etc. How did this designation come to be used? Is it because the leaders of these groups have charisma, that is, an especially charming appeal that draws people to them?
A. The Greek word "charisma" means "favor, gift." In Greek translations of the Bible "charisma" is used both broadly for "spiritual grace" and for a very specific sense of "a spiritual gift divinely granted to a person as a token of favor, exemplified by the power of healing, the gift of tongues, or prophesying." Thus the term first entered English in the 17th century - initially in the form "charism" - as a theological term. Plural forms "charismata" or "charisms" referred to gifts of the Holy Spirit, the ism, and opened up its application to a broader range of public personalities, including movie stars, athletes, generals, writers and, indeed, some evangelists, too.
In the meantime, the older sense of "charisma," denoting extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit, continued in use by certain religious sects such as the Pentecostals, whose members and leaders claimed or sought possession of the divine gifts of speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, and visions. The 1950s saw the beginning of the broader Charismatic Movement in the United States, in which the beliefs of the Pentecostals were more widely embraced among members of mainstream religious groups.
"Charismatic," the adjective, had all along followed a path similar to that of the noun (except that it appeared later - in the 1800s), first being used in connection with the Biblical sense of "charism" or "charisma" (as in "charismatic enlightenment," for a spiritual gift of insight and knowledge) and, from the 1940s on, pertaining as well to Weber's version of "charisma" and its extended senses.
Q. I have occasionally seen the term "cracker-barrel" applied as an adjective meaning "folksy." Why is this? Does it have something to do with an actual barrel of crackers?
A. In the days before pre-packaged food and huge supermarkets, a trip to the nearest store was more than just an errand; it was also a chance to socialize and keep up with goings-on. The country store of yesteryear was the focal point of many rural com-mu-ni-ties, and the heart of the country store was the cracker barrel. Literally a barrel containing crackers, the cracker barrel was the spot where folks would gather to chat about weather and politics, or to swap stories, jokes and gossip. Today, cracker barrels are largely a thing of the past, but the flavor of those friendly exchanges lives on in the adjective "cracker-barrel," which means "suggestive of the friendly homespun character of a country store."