What Words Say (Part 1)

in #etymology4 years ago (edited)

What’s in a name? wrote Shakespeare. Well, there’s considerably more than only a pointer to meaning. Shakespeare’s rose might well smell as sweetly called by another name; but then the way we view a rose will probably be altered in our minds.

This set of essays which follows is a small set within the larger series titled Awakening The Christian Inside. The small set of essays already written concerning education and practicality is not yet complete; but it will become so over time. This present and new set is on Words and their meanings; it is etymology – a big word meaning looking at where words have come from and talking about ways in which they are used and how they relate to other words as their ‘cousins’.

Take for instance the word ‘rule’. It is used to name a measuring rod – a foot rule or a metre rule. One rules a line with a rule on paper. Just about one might use the word ‘rule’ as an active verb – a doing word – and meaning ‘to measure out a length’. Say as ‘Rule up that distance’?

‘Rule’ is also used in the world of political power. The persons who rule are those who govern. They are rulers. It seems fair to me to say that there are shared ideas here in both uses of the word ‘rule’ – as political power and as measuring a distance. That shared idea is that both kinds of ‘ruler’ appoint a Standard, (The Standard), for a) measuring length and b) governing a people.

It is important that I say ‘The Standard’ and not ‘a Standard’ because here the definite article (‘The’) is what makes the length or the governing what is called ‘definitive’ or put another way, – so as to be more easily understood – as being ‘non-negotiable’. The Standard.

Now The Standard, the non-negotiable, is appointed such, by us humans – as the Old Greek said: ‘Man is the measure of all things’. What we lay down is a foot long or a metre wide is what a foot long or a metre wide is. What we say and what we agree on for measuring distance (feet or metres) becomes and remains our Standard.

Like wise with say Britain, a country where every five years or so people go out to polling stations and vote for whom they wish to govern them for the next years. This is the electorate and it appoints a government; and this government thus becomes a non-negotiable item for the term of its office. For its term of office it becomes The Government, the definitive rulers.

Both feet and metres and British governments then are chosen, or were chosen at some point to become definitive things. The important thing about this is choice; is that things could have been different – there could have been a different Standard, a different non-negotiable item chosen other than these, at a certain time earlier on.

So feet or metres could have been chains or furlongs; and a Red Government could have been a Blue Government had the voters chosen at the election for Blue instead of Red.

It is important that something can become and does become a Standard, a non-negotiable item which once had no authority before it was elected or chosen to be the Standard or the non-negotiable item. At some time someone chose a metre and nominated it to be a certain length, every metre the same length, and that person chose it from an almost infinite number of possible other choices.

Electing a government is in a similar way arbitrary – with less choice and fewer options yes, but usually two or maybe three likely options, and several less likely options. Thus it has an arbitrariness about it also.

So we people set up for ourselves Definitive non-negotiable standards. They help us to live. So that when we buy a metre of wood we always get the same length for our wood. So that when a government as our rulers passes a law that law is binding on us all. We make it so. We have made it so.

The curiosity is – why is the word ‘rule’ used of length measurement and of government? Well ‘rule’ is an old word and was used to denote political power as far back as when Britain had kings who ruled; and those kings affirmed and believed that they had been appointed by God to rule, and so that they had an absolute right and power to exercise their will on their nation and people in whatever ways they wished to. This was known as kings ruling by Divine Right.

Yet these kings had yet to be endorsed by their peoples, chosen and crowned at coronations; after which they became The King definitively. Historically it could have been otherwise.

This hard and fast certainty of definitiveness and of non-negotiatability; of the fact having been created that the king cannot be ‘ruled out’; just as the fact of the measure of length has been made so as to stand unalterable – these two meanings of the world ‘rule’ and their characteristics look like very much one and the same thing. They both carry and assert absolute Authority.

What they say goes. A metre is a metre and no more and no less. What the king says is what happens and not something else. There is no room for questioning; no room for doubt; everyone knows that this Authority is binding upon them.

Now a metre rule is an object and a physical fact. It can be bought and it can replicate measured metre lengths on any surface as long as it endures and does not wear out. It is a tool for carpenters and craft workers. It is useful and allows great facility. It can be picked up or put down. One can exercise one’s freewill in using it, on whether to measure and how much to measure.

A king, or a government, by governing, allows or restricts, places burdens or relieves them, on his peoples as he see are appropriate and convenient. A person’s, a citizen’s freewill is allowed or prevented as these governing edicts and laws from the governors apply to them. Almost, one might say, by a slightly odd usage I admit, but I use it to make the point, as if citizens were the tools and the rulers were the carpenters or craft workers. The citizens are the physical objects which are able to be picked up, used, and put down at will.

Now persons might object here that I am twisting arguments; and say that governments rule for the benefit of their peoples and so their peoples are not tools in their hands. But I have not been contesting this point. I am showing how the word ‘rule’ is used in length measuring and in governing; and how this word ‘rule’ carries within its meaning and in these two applications of it some very similar, almost identical qualities and characteristics.

But if I were able to show you many, many other words which we use in English every day; and all of which are bearing parallel relations in their various meanings and usages, to this situation with the word ‘rule’ which situation I have drawn here for you in this essay; would you then begin to consider that perhaps the usages of such words indicate something about our power structures and how they work?

Here are some samples of words whose meanings and applications I aim to discuss with you with a view to explaining and illuminating the ways in which our language and the common ordinary ways we use it, causes us to be imprisoned by our own thought processes. We become imprisoned because we become culturally conditioned (I say this rather than me assuming that these things reflect the ‘natural’ situation and are as they ought to be) so that we are directed and led and pointed by the language we use, so as to obey and to accept as authoritative the words and ideas and so the personages of certain places and positions, and those not others, and yet this acceptance of ours is in fact arbitrary, often felt absolute in its authority by us, and is allowed by us without reasonable cause.

Consider the meanings and usage of these words, which I am going to discuss in forthcoming essays: (The words placed in brackets beside the example words are ‘cousins’ of them and written here to help you consider the impact of the words.)

Regarding Peoples Regarding Peoples

Low Down in Society High Up in Society

Villain (villein) Noble

Coward (cowherd) Count

Service Rich (Reich – German)

Common Wealth

Ordinary Real (Regal)

Page Sovereignty

Vassal (vessel) Treasury

Subject Title

Tithe Courtesy

Simple Court

Clown Official

(I understand I may now and then get some etymologies wrong. I am not expert. I believe there is enough evidence however, and enough words, which are able to be good examples, so that my general contention will in due course become proven)

The original article is located at our Anomalist design blog: http://blog.anomalistdesign.com/what-words-say-part-1/


The origin of words and how their meaning changed over time is fascinating. Thanks for the article and the word "rule". I am going to follow you!
If you are interested in history, see my Today in History article.