Word Origin - A View of World History
Word origin study is a fascinating way to discover the history of language and of a people. Learning where words in a language originated can tell us a lot about early influences on a society. Word origin in the English language, for example, indicates that this culture originated from many others. Many of our most commonly used words are Latin based, but come from countries as distinct as Italy, Spain and France. Their incorporation into our language is indicative of the exploration, invasion and emigration, reflecting world history on a large scale.
Word Origin - A View of Cultural Diversity
Word origin knowledge, according to Joseph T. Shipley, author of Dictionary of Word Origins (Littlefield, Adams & Co., 1967), is "to know how men think, how they have fashioned their civilization. Word history traces the path of human fellowship, the bridges from mend to mind, from nation to nation." Word origin can be inspired by influences as diverse as conquerors, commerce and cliques. Since the beginning of time, people have longed to search out unknown territories. Unfortunately, human nature and its lust for power caused many of those discoveries to lead to war in the desire for conquest and superiority.
Word Origin - A View of the Times
Word origin in America today shares its base with England, but has developed its own personality through its multicultural heritage. It's a topic that can fascinate students of history and students of language. Writers, in particular, find their skills enhanced by understanding the roots and national origins of words. Such knowledge enriches our ability to comprehend meaning, especially in reading classic literature from times past.
Because we are a people in flux, new words are being added to our menu choices almost daily. Some turn out to be "slang" that is temporary in nature, so it fades in time. Other terms become part of a culture's vernacular based on frequency of use as well as a change in that culture's way of life, such as many of the words and phrases connected to our current computer-based lifestyle. These words, such as "multi-tasking," "interfacing," and "online/offline," were either unknown or have enhanced their meanings in the last 20-30 years.
Word Origin - Phrases From the Bible
Like word origin, phrase origin presents another fascinating opportunity to learn about our cultural roots. For example, many commonly used phrases in the English language find their origin in the Bible, offering a clear indicator that the Judeo-christian faith has played a critical role in the roots of both English and American history. Here are a few examples:
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush - this phrase originates from the same sentiment found in Ecclesiastes 9 - "a living dog is better than a dead lion."
A man after his own heart - is from 1 Samuel 13:14 - "the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart…"
Bite the dust - even this "cowboy" slang phrase finds its roots in the Bible, originating in Psalm 72:9 - "They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust."
To everything there is a season - did not begin with the popular '60's song, but is found in Ecclesiastes 3.
The handwriting's on the wall and your number's up - both phrases find their origin in Daniel 5, when Belshazzar, King of Babylon, is confronted by God's supernatural decree that the time of his kingdom was finished.
Good Samaritan - used in reference to someone who compassionately helps another with no thought of reward, this phrase and concept is found in the parable told by Jesus in Luke 10:30-33.
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