As with so many words in our wonderful English language, "marvelous" has become overused and dumbed down to mean unusual or special. This is exemplified by the common phrase "simply marvelous, darling ... " from "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Even earlier, in the 1940s, Fernando Lamas patented the phrase, "You look marvelous." This phrase became so embedded in our culture that Billy Crystal parodied Lamas in "Fernando's Hideaway."
But marvelous, in its truest sense, is all about God's divine intervention in the affairs of his children, not about how cool we are or how we look or act.
Marvelous, or marvel, stems from the English root "to laugh or smile," or "to wonder or marvel at whence miracle and admire" (The Roots of English). This root also has the sense of "smiling together" (The Origins of English Words). The Oxford English Dictionary defines marvelous as a miracle, something wonderful or an astonishing thing. It also means something "to excite wonder or astonishment; surprising; concerned with the supernatural; something extravagantly improbable."
Webster's defines marvelous as "that which exceeds natural power." In scripture, the word marvelous is also used in connection with the word "wonder," as in "Behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder" (Isaiah 29:14).
It turns out that marvelous and wonder are pretty nearly synonymous. The OED defines wonder as "a marvelous object." Wonder also means "a deed performed or an event brought about by a miraculous or supernatural power; a miracle." While a wonder is a "deed," it is also "the emotion excited by the perception of something novel and unexpected or inexplicable; astonishment mingled with perplexity or bewildered curiosity."
Marvelous and its related words are used 155 times in scripture and in virtually every case they refer to an astonishing, miraculous act or description of divinity. The Psalmist emphasizes God's supernatural love for us when he says, "Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust in thee" (Psalms 17:7).
In prophesying of the Messiah, the Psalmist teaches, "The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes" (Psalms 118:22-23; see Matthew 21:42).In the very beginning of the Book of Mormon, Lehi constructs the framework by which we should understand the rest of the Book of Mormon. For he "had read and seen many great and marvelous things," and exclaimed "great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth" (1 Nephi 1:14).
Joseph A. Cannon is editor of the Deseret News.