Lewis Thomas on the etymology of “love” and “like”.

Sanskrit dictionaries list several words for loving, arranged in order of both intensity and degree of attachment. Snehah meant fondness, anurahah implied devotion, while manmathah was reserved for passionate and presumably sexual commitment. Priyate simply meant to love someone, and priya was the word for dearest, beloved. The words are etymologically distinct from one another, but linked directly to the IE root pri, meaning love. Pri had at its outset only the single meaning of love, but later, in Old Englsh, the words became freo and freond, providing modern English with both free and friend, both still with a half-buried sense of loving, or at least affection.

Another word for preference, much thinner and less committed than loving and its cognates, is like. We say we like so-and-so, or such-and-such, meaning something like friendship and a mild wish, but with a reversible sense always there in case. Old English lician, and Gothic leikan meant to please. Oddly, the same IE root, lik, is the origin of the pleasing sort of like, and also of like when used in its sense of something similar, alike, and the like that is partly cut away at the ends of words and replaced by -ly. Lively, for instance, was live-like, likely was like-like, lovely was assuredly love-like. Like is still useful, in some contexts indispensable, but nothing like as heavy a word as love and the cousins of love. It implies a choice when the odds favor that choice in the mind, but always the option of withdrawal if it turns out not to one’s liking. I like this-or-that, for the present; tomorrow we can think again. Or, tossed in front of friendly sentences: “Like wow!”; “Like it’s raining.” Or tossed behind, as in an OED example from a 1966 magazine: “C’est la vie, like!”

- Lewis Thomas - Et Cetera, Et Cetera: Notes Of A Word Watcher (1990)

The Etymology of Desire (Lewis Thomas)

Desire has its own special feeling inside. It is not quite the same as wanting or wishing, not at all the sense of needing. When you desire something, or somebody, you’re not about to get what you want; the object is not within reach or grasp, you need fortune to help you along. Luck is involved, always, or you would be using other words, saying more plainly that you have to have it, and will have it, whatever. Desire is considerably made up of hope.

The language started work on desire long ago, and put it together meticulously. The beginning was the Indo-European root sweid (also sueid), meaning simply to shine, anything glowing. It grew into sweid-os, then moved into Latin as sidus, a star, a constellation of stars. Reading the stars for portents, astrological assurances, produced the Latin term for augury, considerare, meaning to look at the stars carefully, to observe heaven for signs of luck. Desiderare came along naturally, as a close cognate but carrying much more urgency, a very strong wish for something special, but catchable only if the stars are right.

Thus our desire, wanting it badly, even being tormented by the wanting, but always at risk of meeting the wrong pattern in the sky, the wrong stars. Desiring something is not just sitting around, hoping for it to drop in one’s lap; the word implies effort, concentration, hard work, worry. Plus the layout in the sky. Plus fingers crossed.

- Lewis Thomas, Notes Of A Word-Watcher (1990)

Image source

ART: early 13c., “skill as a result of learning or practice,” from O.Fr. art, from L. artem (nom. ars) “art, skill, craft,” from PIE *ar-ti- (cf. Skt. rtih “manner, mode;” Gk. arti “just,” artios “complete;” Armenian arnam “make;” Ger. art “manner, mode”), from base *ar- “fit together, join”

via Etymology Online

"Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truths, passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius, but never abandoned. The revolt of individualism came because the tradition had become degraded, or rather because a spurious copy had been accepted in its stead." - William Butler Yeats

Lewis Thomas on the etymology of etymology

Etymon has no etymon, fittingly enough. It existed only in Greek, with the generally accepted meaning of a true word, the original word, the source of all related words to come later. But it is hard to be sure about this. How could a word like etymon appear out of nowhere and suddenly install itself in ancient Greek, out of the blue, so to say. It is also strange that there seem to be no descendant words based on etymon, apart from the obvious immediate derivatives: etymology, etymologist, etymologize. All this would make etymon unique, unprecedented. The OED suggests a possible way to bypass the puzzle. The philologist Brugmann, a century ago, proposed an origin for etymon in Old Aryan, s-etumos, with the suffix s derived from IE (Indo-European) es, meaning it is, it is true. If this were correct, it would not only provide etymon with proper ancestors but would also assure a huge number of cousins.

Es is one of the most prolific of all IE roots in the language. At the outset, it had the meaning to be, extending as es-mi in Germanic and eam in Old English to modern am; and from es-ti to German ist to French est to English is. It turned up again in Old English sie, meaning it is so, si in romance languages, and our word yes. And again it moved as sont to soth in Old English, and to sooth (forsooth) and soothe.

The connection of soothe to yes is strange but true; it takes a bit of relaxing to get it straight in the mind. I suppose that if something is, and is true, and leads to nodding of the head, and brings the archaic response sooth, or the modern answer yes, it is a soothing experience. The truth is not always soothing, but in a better world it ought to be.

- Lewis Thomas: Notes of A Word-Watcher (1990)

Lewis Thomas on the Etymology of Love.

From the Indo-European root leubh, containing the general sense of loving, desiring and caring all at once, the Germanic tongues evolved bileafa, meaning belief and faith, strong terms indeed and surely the underpinnings of genuine love. It needed only a suffix to become Old English lufu, and then love. Latin used the same root for libere and libet, carrying signals of pleasure, goodwill, freedom and candor. Libido was a more carefully used variant, cautiously indicating strong desire with risks of caprice and immoderation, even lust, brushing against Cupid and cupidity. Sanskrit had lubhyati, he desires, Lithuanian still carries liaupse from the same root, a song of praise. Leubh survives in modern German Liebe, solid, enduring love.

The French je t’aime, irreplaceable, and all the variants of amour emerging from the Latin amo, as robust a source for passionate love as the language has devised, can only be tracked as far as the ancient Latin word amma, believed to be a childhood term at the outset. From amma we have the Latin and French words for love, and also amicus, a friend, a reminder not to lose sight of the old connection between love and friendship. Also two of the most agreeable English words in the language: amiable and amicable.

It is as though the language tried several paths into the meaning of love, then thought twice and corrected itself. Kwep and kwap turned out to be the wrong way to go, blind alleys leading to cupid and vapid. The other roots produced the real idea, the foundation of lasting love: trust, belief, reliance, freedom and desire all combined, something to grow up with, a string of lovely, lovable words.

- Lewis Thomas: Notes Of A Word Watcher (1990)

Lewis Thomas: The Etymology of Music.

"Music, the most enduring and influential of all our social activities comes to us from the IE (Indo-European) root men, from which we derive most of our words for using our minds and thinking. One dictionary definition of the root men is ” to think, with derivatives to various qualities and states of mind and thought,” casting the widest of etymological nets. The root for music comes along in the Greek word mousa, a muse, in the intellectual company of Avestan mazda, all nine of the greek goddesses of the arts and sciences, the Latin goddess of wisdom, Minerva, the madwoman attendant of Bacchus, Maenad,the Avestan spirit Ahriman, the German Minnesinger and the Greek Eumenides, mind users, thinkers all.

The etymological connection of music to thinking is something to think about. Each activity of the mind is reminiscent of the other. Music at its best, I believe, even at its worst, is a way of telling us how our minds are really working.”

from: Et Cetera, Et Cetera: Notes Of A Word-Watcher

Lewis Thomas (1990)

The Etymology of Self

" The distinction between the notions of self and others must have been a subtle problem for the first makers of language, and the complexity is illustrated by the abundance and ambiguity of terms defining selfness and otherness in the IE (Indo-European) family. The necessary lessons for the construction and endurance of a human community are embedded in the words used to elaborate the distinction. Self (Old English silf ) came from IE seu, also swe, (we our-)selves. From variants of these roots, we have a long list of words with se- as prefix, entities outside: separate, secede, seclude, secure and the like. Sure is almost the same word as secure (seure in Middle English, from securus in Latin.) Solus derives from seu, hence solo, solitude, solipsism and desolate. Swe led to suescere in Latin, custom, and to ethnos in Greek. Starting with ethnos we have important words for what we are up to in society, what our crowd thinks and does: ethics, also ethnic. Ethics is, in real life, an inclusive word for what we suppose ourselves to be, not jut our crowd or our village; we have it in the language as a set of assumptions about the whole species, the ethos of humankind. The language thinks well of us, regardless of our customs, even when, as happens, we don’t.”

fromĀ  Et Cetera, Et Cetera: Notes of a Word Watcher (1990) by Lewis Thomas.

(Image: Linear B tablet of Pylos)

from On Etymons and Hybrids by Lewis Thomas

" 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)