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Etymology

June 9, 2010

This language that we are sharing in, is a pretty strange beast. It has been the most evolutionary of all languages, or rather, put more bluntly, been the most de-volutionary of most languages.

So a short post to encourage the history of language, aka, etymology.

If we really wish to communicate, clearly, it stands to reason that we need to understand the tool we are using for communication. Language is a tool first and a pretty thing, or a musical thing or a harsh thing after.

And while you do not need to know the history of that hammer you are using to nail something, this tool, language is different. It is a living tool.

While the head of that nail you hit with the hammer will be left in no doubt that it has been struck, language is flexible in it’s impact. It is open to interpretation, semantics, cultural influence, time in history of it’ s origin…. factor upon factor upon factor that sways it’ s true impact.

I’ll sign off with the shocker that left me wanting more, diving into they sea of etymology.

Actually one other thing, words are live, alive. They are modulations of airwaves or mind-waves. And they carry with them the entire history of their use. Think about that for a minute. What if  a word originated in something and has been twisted over the ages to mean something totally different? As it is spoken, it carriers it’s current meaning (obvious) and it’s origin-al meaning (subtle but equally powerful, whether you are conscious of it or not).

And so on to the word of the day:

Compete. We of course know it as dog eat dog, winner takes all, fight to win, get ahead, life is a jungle……

What it really means, and this via http://www.etymonline.com

1610s, from M.Fr. compéter “be in rivalry with” (14c.), or directly from L.L. competere “strive in common,” in classical Latin “to come together, agree, to be qualified,” later, “strive together,” from com- “together” (see com-) + petere “to strive, seek, fall upon, rush at, attack” (see petition). Rare 17c., and regarded early 19c. as a Scottish or Amer.Eng. word. Market sense is from 1840s (perhaps a back formation from competition); athletics sense attested by 1857. Related: Competed; competing.

Strive together, agree, strive in common….. hmmmmmmmmm, the current mean-ing is from much later than the origin.

I for one was struck like lightening. And there is a lot more like it.

Ponder that!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. the slycaen permalink
    July 14, 2010 7:52 am

    i dunno…what if the “striving in common” just refers to all parties agreeing that their competition should have a common ruleset. They “agree” as to what and how to strive for something…those that do well become “qualified.” The ‘rush at’/’attack’ connection easily fall in common-day-definition territory.

    i’m curious to maybe hear more about what exactly struck you as notable the revelation that compete may have used to mean nearly the exactly opposite today.

    • July 14, 2010 9:16 am

      Slycaen,

      Even if striving in common meant what you suggest, in a utopian world all would be well and everyone would play by the rules. But in our current world, that picture of competition also falls flat. We understand Darwinism and Competition in the same semantic sense. Survival of the fittest.

      And a zero-sum game.

      In fact, I think I’ll post about this today.
      Glad to have you reading/participating.

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