Cherub

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Cherub is a singular noun in Hebrew, the language from which it comes. In academic English the preferred plural is cherubim.

The Hebrew word, which is used in the Christian Bible following the Jewish Bible, has a regular plural which may be transcribed in English as cherubim or, more accurately, k'rūbīm (OED). This used to be given in English (and still is in French and other European languages) as cherubin. At various times these words were thought of as singular forms, so there have been plurals like cherubims and cherubins. With the growth of Hebrew scholarship in Europe in the 16th Century, these came to be seen as errors - though cherubims is found in the Authorized Version of the Old Testament (1611) (e.g., in Ezekiel ch.10) - and they are now never used by those who like to show that they are educated. You may also like to see the related word seraphim.

The plural form cherubs is little used in academic English - though see below.

The orthodox form may be seen in such hymns as Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty! (Reginald Heber, 1783–1826):

Holy, Holy, Holy! all the saints adore thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea
Cherubim and Seraphim falling down before thee,
Which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel (6th century BCE) describes cherubim as having four wings with human hands underneath them (Ezekiel ch. 1: 4-14 & ch. 10) and four faces, those of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (ch. 1: 10, cf. 10 :14). However, when cherubim appear in Renaissance and post-Renaissance painting and sculpture, they are often represented as small, plump, babyish boys, sometimes with a single pair of wings (i.e., as putti or amoretti).

In virtue of their resemblance to one of these Renaissance figures a plump, smiling baby or charming young child is sometimes affectionately referred to as a cherub. This use of the word has the plural cherubs, not cherubim (as in, e.g., the description of twins as ‘a delightful pair of little cherubs’) and a related adjective cherubic (as in ‘The baby greeted the arrival of his mother with a cherubic smile’).