Posted by: suekenney | March 29, 2013

With a Triumphal Grin?

Really, this is about words and grammar.

This past Sunday, March 24, I was doing my morning devotions and belatedly picked up on the fact that it was Palm Sunday (at least in the Western tradition).  This is the day that Christians celebrate Jesus Christ riding into Jerusalem at the beginning of that last week before the Crucifixion.  Many of us call that the Triumphal Entry.


English: Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

English: Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My mind – as it is wont to do – started wandering around this concept of a triumphal entry:  what was it exactly?  why triumphal and not triumphant?  was there a difference between triumphal and triumphant?

Checking my concordance, I found that the phrase “triumphal entry” is not in the Bible.  According to the Wikipedia article I read, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem  probably wasn’t referred to as a triumphal entry until the 13th century or so.  The term “triumphal entry” actually refers to the ancient Roman practice of celebrating their generals’ successes with a triumph: a parade through the streets of Rome, a special sacrifice, and various other honors and benefits.

Now, I don’t intend to get into all the whys and wherefores of Jesus being given a triumph when He entered Jerusalem.    This is about words, not theology.  The adjective “triumphal,” then, refers to celebrating or commemorating a victory or triumph, or having the nature of a triumph in the Roman sense.  The word, according to, based on the Random House Dictionary, was recorded as first being used around 1400-1450.

Triumphant is very similar, but there is a shade of difference.  It’s a slightly younger word, having been first recorded as being used around 1485-1495.  In fact, it was early used as a replacement or equivalent of triumphal.  But over the centuries it has come to refer more to the actual victory than to the celebration thereof.  So triumphant means successful or victorious, or exulting in that success or victory.  As I said, “same but different.”

Not an earthshaking issue, for sure.  But of interest to grammar nerds such as I (yeah, I figured I’d better say that one correctly).  And enough to let me know that my title is not topnotch in terms of diction – I should grin triumphantly, not triumphally.


  1. Lovely distinction – thanks! But a grammar question, Sue: I would have put “to grammar nerds such as ME” (not I) – using the object pronoun following the preposition ‘to’. Now I shall have to look that one up!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, I was dithering about “me” or “I” myself. I decided on “I” with the thought that it was the beginning of an understood but unstated clause – “grammar nerds such as I am.” Maybe I’m overthinking it. That was my reasoning anyway.

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