A&O – WORDS – etymology – hidden histories



WORDS – etymology – hidden histories 

By now you are familiar with our concern for MAKING CONNECTIONS (arguably connections create MEANING)

And of course words–as is the culture of our clan–is amongst our primary means of connections.  They are GOOD IF you remember their limitations:


Like archaeology or paleontology … the backgrounds of words reveal constellations of meanings which have evolved in their respective cultures –there DNA reveals shared  backgrounds which can provide insight to contemporary meanings.  


NEW WORDS  (from A&O Notes on The Problem with Words“):

Be an etymologist:  Find a couple of romantic stories (narratives that delight) about familiar words.  (Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that “The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin.”)

FOSSIL POETRY –romantic idea but still, POETRY is mainly words, once again, Joseph Campbell’s comment is relevant:

The best things cannot be told, the second best are  misunderstood.  After that comes civilized conversation;  after that, mass indoctrination; after that,  intercultural exchange.   And so, proceeding, we come to  the problem of communication: the opening, that is to  say, of one’s own truth and depth to the depth and truth  of another in such a way as to establish an authentic  community of existence.(Joseph Campbell 1968 The  Masks of God: Creative Mythology p.84) link

There is an extraordinary power in having a single word for a complex idea: like abstract art, something seemly simple signifies something quite complex, like having a word for a specific ailment creates an enlarged sense of control, however slight, over a troubling or dangerous condition.  


There are also complex ideas for which there is no convenient way to communicate. Without some measure of communication there is an unfortunate distance between the constellation of ideas you can experience but not express and your ability to cope with them.   

The Untranslatable Emotions You Never Knew You Had is an article that provides a basis for discussing the adaptive advantage of a larger vocabulary: “emotion vocabulary is a bit like a directory, allowing you to call up a greater number of strategies to cope with life.”  Look at John Koenig’s You Tube introduction of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (also website)

In your notebook, relate feelings you have experienced for which no single word or simple phrase will suffice. If a word needs to be invented, so be it! Look to John Koenig’s site for inspiration.