” An etymon is supposed to be a pure ore of a word, crystalline, absolutely original, signifying just what it was always intended to signify. They are very rare these days. Most of the words we use are hybrids, pieced together out of old, used speech by a process rather like the recycling of waste. We keep stores of discarded words around, out beyond the suburbs of our mind, stacked like scrap metal.
When you do run across a primary, original word, the experience is both disturbing and vaguely pleasurable, like coming across a friend’s picture in an old high-school annual. They are all very old, and the most meaningful ones date all the way back to Indo-European roots which became the parents of cognate words in Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Latin, and, much later, most of the English language. Sen meant old, spreg meant speak, swem was swim, nomen was name, porko was a young pig, dent was a tooth. Eg was I and my ego, tu was thou, yu were you, and me was me. Nek was death. A mormor was a murmur. Mater, pater, bhrater, and swesor were the immediate family, and nepots were the nephews and nieces. A yero was a year. A wopsa was a wasp and an aspa was an aspen. A deru was a tree, and also something durable and true. To gno was to know. Akwa was water, and to bhreu was to boil. Using basic Indo-european and waving your hands, you could get around the world almost as well as with New York English.
Some of the first words have changed their meaning drastically, of course. Bhedh was the source of our “bead,” but it originally meant to ask or to bid; “bead” started out as a word for prayer. Dheye meant to look and see, and moved from dhyana in Sanskrit, meaning to meditate, to jhana in Pali, to ch’an in Chinese, to zen in Japanese.”
(Image: Kish Tablet)
” If one asks for the historical position of the two forms of individualism which are nourished by the quantitative relation of the metropolis, namely, individual independence and the elaboration of individuality itself, then the metropolis assumes an entirely new rank order in the world history of the spirit. The eighteenth century found the individual in oppressive bonds which had become meaningless-bonds of a political, agrarian, guild, and religious character. They were restraints which, so to speak, forced upon man an unnatural form and outmoded, unjust inequalities. In this situation the cry for liberty and equality arose, the belief in the individual’s full freedom of movement in all social and intellectual relationships. Freedom would at once permit the noble substance common to all to come to the fore, a substance which nature had deposited in every man and which society and history had only deformed. Besides this eighteenth-century ideal of liberalism, in the nineteenth century, through Goethe and Romanticism, on the one hand, and through the economic division of labor, on the other hand, another ideal arose: individuals liberated from historical bonds now wished to distinguish themselves from one another. The carrier of man’s values is no longer the “general human being” in every individual, but rather man’s qualitative uniqueness and irreplaceability. The external and internal history of our time takes its course within the struggle and in the changing entanglements of these two ways of defining the individual’s role in the whole of society. It is the function of the metropolis to provide the arena for this struggle and its reconciliation.”
from The Metropolis and Mental Life, by Georg Simmel, 1903.