On Etymology

Sticks and stones can indeed break bones, but words can also hurt, heal, invigorate and inspire.

Fr. Lovasik said, “Kind words are a creative force, a power that concurs in the building up of all that is good, and energy that showers blessings upon the world.” The good Father was on to something there, it seems. Choosing the right word in a situation can sometimes make the difference between heal and hell. That is why word origins have always been a pet interest to this gentleman.

Poe knew this, too. He wrote, “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” Their reality is manifest in their meaning, their origin, their birth. We are creatures of our society, prisoners of our language. We use words passed from our culture and heritage and often borrowed from others. Yet, in knowing which word to use correctly, our world can become almost limitless. “The limits of my language means the limits of my world,” Wittgenstein observed.

A recent example of this came in the form of an American football game on the telly. The announcers waxed rhapsodic about a certain college team being a juggernaut. The word stuck a chord in my gray matter, and I leapt to my etymology dictionary to see where the word originated.

This writer seriously doubts that the announcers, versed as they were in the sport in which they reveled, knew that they referenced a, “huge wagon bearing an image of the god Krishna,” when they called the team in crimson-lined jerseys a juggernaut. Yet, in the way in which sometimes happens to blind squirrels when they happen upon a nut, these jocular jocks lighted upon the perfect metaphor. The elephant-mascotted team they so described stood atop their particular level of American football as the Lord Krishna of that particular sport.

A workable etymology dictionary exists online, but if one fancies a tangible copy of such, Mr. Bezos purveys these in his virtual shop daily: The Etymoligicon and The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Of course, a readable copy of the OED would suffice as well.

This writer shall leave you with these two gentlemen–gentlemen who know much more about the power of words than he. First, Confucius: “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” Lastly, Socrates: “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.

Carry on.

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