Tag Archives: etymology

QA 45. Much obliged?

For months I’ve been like a hound dog barking at a rabbit hole. Then I think I fell in because things got kind of strange. Here’s how it went…Step 1 (QA 44). The development of philosophical practice as ethical and emancipatory leads me to think about human dignity as integral, inherent and immeasurable. And a source of great confusion. What is that about?

Step 2. I find that “dignity” is defined in terms of “worth” and “value”. Unlike dignity, these words have both material and moral meanings, which are different (e.g. a man of worth might not be worth much at the bank). Also strange: my dictionary lists both meanings as primary.

Step 3. I start to notice how many words share that crossover quality. We speak of credit, debt, appreciate, account, responsibility, balance, equity, interest, share in both economic and ethical terms. I know that “the Good” is not the same as “the goods”, but this indicates a very close relationship. What could it be? Continue reading

QA 33. May 2012. It’s only words, and words are all I have…

It is often forgotten that (dictionaries) are artificial repositories, put together well after the languages they define. The roots of language are irrational and of a magical nature. Jorge Luis Borges

The hard drive of my laptop crashed two days before I was to leave on a residential writing retreat. I took it philosophically (of course) and looked forward to five days of writing by hand. But when I realised I’d also be without my online dictionaries, I packed a neglected old companion: a second-hand Collins English Dictionary bought a dozen years ago when I was writing my thesis. Subtitled A Dictionary of the English Language containing over 100,000 References and Numerous Supplements and edited by Alexander H. Irvine, it was first published in 1956. It’s a pleasantly compact hardcover edition complete with faded dust-wrap and a frayed plastic cover. The R10 price is still pencilled on the flyleaf. In the next few days, we fell in love all over again. Continue reading