A Few Words About Etymology

Etymology. Many people make attempts at it, yet have never even heard of the word.

noun: etymology

the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history. “the etymology of a word may be unknown”

Boy, is that an understatement!

Being a musician, many friends can’t understand why I’m not a fan of poetry, or more specifically “modern poetry,” and the reason is etymology.

This bad habit of taking words apart to attempt to change the meaning, or to allude to a false origin, is an Orwellian practice that is only helping to destroy the English language in new and extremely deceptive ways. In most cases it’s probably not intentional, but it’s still a problem.

For one example, one such person who likes to pretend they are telling others about the origins of words without actually knowing anything about them, is also one of these “modern poets” who was frequently posting in a Facebook group I belong to.

He went into a lengthy explanation of the word “evolve,” claiming it’s origins to be the word “love.” Any high-school graduate should know that words don’t “evolve” backwards, but not this guy. He went on and on about all the ways you can re-arrange the words, and how they are therefore connected. Yea, no:

evolve (v.) 1640s, “to unfold, open out, expand,” from Latin evolvere “to unroll, roll out, roll forth, unfold,” especially of books; figuratively “to make clear, disclose; to produce, develop,” from assimilated form of ex- “out” (see ex-) + volvere “to roll” (see volvox). Meaning “to develop by natural processes to a higher state” is from 1832. Related: Evolved; evolving.

love (v.) Old English lufian “to love, cherish, show love to; delight in, approve,” from Proto-Germanic *lubojan (source also of Old High German lubon, German lieben), from root of love (n.). Related: Loved; loving. Adjective Love-hate “ambivalent” is from 1937, originally a term in psychological jargon.

It was the shortest internet debate I’ve ever had with anyone, and I hope he didn’t leave the group over it, but at least he quit posting his silly word-games.

Another example came not long after the death of David Bowie, in a YouTube video dedicated to his esoteric and occult influences. The video was full of interesting info, some I knew already, and some I didn’t. However, when the narrator came to the part where Bowie began dressing in “drag,” they went into a long, phony explanation of how the word “drag” was derived from “dragon,” therefore directly related to evil shape-shifting reptilians. Someone’s been watching too many David Icke videos.

The etymology of the word “drag” is somewhat debatable, but it dates back to 1800’s theater terminology. It either came from dresses “dragging the floor,” or from a Shakespearean footnote, an abbreviation for “dressed resembling a girl,” as back then, men played both women’s and men’s roles in the theater, with no actresses.

Unfortunately, that was it for me, and I really couldn’t believe anything else this guy had to say about anything. Credibility shot.

My last example, though there are hundreds I could list, comes from a podcast I was listening to. The interview was with a pretty intelligent guy in the areas of music, astrology, and physics, but when he was talking about the pyramids, and the word “cubit” came up, he said – in “modern-poet” style – “cube-it, meaning to make something a cube.” Again, sorry, but no, bro:

cubit (n.) ancient unit of measure based on the forearm from elbow to fingertip, usually from 18 to 22 inches, early 14c., from Latin cubitum “the elbow,” from PIE *keu(b)- “to bend.” Such a measure, known by a word meaning “forearm” or the like, was known to many peoples

Again, harmless enough at face value, but when you’re being interviewed about physics and science, and make a statement like that, it punches a huge hole in your credibility as a researcher. If you can’t take 30 seconds to google the definition or etymology of a word, I suggest you don’t go around telling people what you’ve decided it is, stating it as fact. Especially not in a Facebook group, or in a YouTube video, or in a podcast thousands are reading, watching, or listening to.

I’ve found the etymological origins of these words and many more on the really-easy-to-find “Online Etymology Dictionary,” at http://www.etymonline.com, and anyone else can too.

If you have a funny or interesting example of Orwellian re-defining of words, or the refrigerator-magnets cut-in-half style “modern poetry,” please feel free to share in the comments below.


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