The word “amen” is not a gendered word and the term “a-women” is entirely made up, a professor of theology who specializes in Hebrew told CNA, after a prayer in the U.S. Congress used the fake word.

On Sunday, January 3, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) led the opening prayer for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Cleaver, an ordained Methodist pastor who served for 37 years as the senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, ended his prayer asking for peace in the legislative chamber, “in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and God known by many names by many different faiths. Amen and a-women.”

“Brahma” is the Hindu creator deity. There are members of the legislature who belong to Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Unitarian Universalist faiths.

While the word “amen” ends in “men,” like “repairmen” or “handymen,” it is not in reference to a gender, Dr. John Bergsma of the Franciscan University of Steubenville said to CNA on Monday. Bergsma has taught four undergraduate courses on Hebrew, as well as a summer intensive on the language.

“‘Amen’ is a Hebrew word whose root meaning is ‘truth,’” Bergsma explained to CNA. “Already in ancient times, the Israelites used the term ‘amen’ in solemn ceremonies to express consent to the truth of what was said, meaning, ‘it is true’ or ‘so be it,’ depending on context.”

In Hebrew, said Bergsma, the word for man is ‘adam’ or ‘ish,’ and is unrelated to the word “amen.”

“In fact, the Hebrew pronunciation is ‘ah-MAIN,’ rhyming with ‘train,’ and doesn’t sound like ‘men,’” he said. “It is a verbal form, not a noun.”

The use of “amen” in Christian liturgical and prayerful context, said Bergsma, “expresses complete consent and faith in what is being said or done, as when we approach the Eucharist and say ‘amen’ to the minister’s statement, ‘The Body of Christ’.”

“At the end of prayer, ‘amen” expresses our solemn consent to what has been said in prayer, affirming that we have been truthful and expressing faith in God’s truthfulness and trustworthiness,” he said.

As for Cleaver’s use of “a-women” in Sunday’s prayer?

“‘A-women’ is wordplay for comical or political effect in English,” said Bergsma. “Strictly speaking, it is a nonsensical mashup of syllables from different languages.”