Sunday, October 11, 2009
I created that word just now.
Etymology is about tracing a history. An etymon is an original form within the story—an apparently original form, for who knows?
The historiography is all a matter of traces left in extant texts. How much of one’s life now gets into written word? How must it have been
when literacy was slight. Origins are some diffuse ether of lost time.
In the beginning was writing, i.e., The Beginning is that which shines through lexical windows assembled into multifaceted assertions, confidences about definiteness in the local cosmos, our lives amid so much chaos of nature and fragile attachments to each other, land, time.
So, like geographers and topographers, the lexicographers gather
the array of uses pursuant to a lexical item in the market, from the fields, voiced from diaries born of scarce solitude in hard times; and so on. Arrays of use get taxonomic structure: Definition 1 is born (or taken to be the birth, the ambiance of the etymon); and subkindreds are differentiated. And it comes to pass that meanings transmute, impose themselves in such new ways that a subfamily is spawned: def. 2
The vague history of sense is a faint echo of winds in the ethos,
the cultural ecology, that gives way to hybridity. Families within families slowly flower through time like eonic mitosis of species from a given genera.
‘Spirit’ is a good example. Searching on ‘spirit’ at Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged online ($30/year buys the privilege) turns up 71 variants, besides the simple noun and transitive verb.
Can I spirit you away through simply dwelling with ‘spirit’?
Not to talk about animal spirits, buffleheads, ethyl nitrate, induline, peppermint, holiness, guardians, or comedy. Just spirit, pure and simple.
The etymon is breath of life. A thing grows. One moves “on one's own,” in itself arising.
How marvelous. How does life happen? That was the second greatest of mysteries. Yet even now, it’s still a mystery (re: the “regulatory genome”) how so many molecular mechanisms—untraceably massive in number for any given cellular site—are coordinated (coordinate themselves?) so finely.
But that’s getting way ahead in our story. From the breath of life came certainty that a supernatural being (maybe an elf) was the reason. Strangely, the self-determined being always gained lots of personality, like the fuzzy sensibility of infancy realizing that being Mother is a quite definite cohering of the air.
But alas, Mother was not the origin of it all, rather “the active essence of the Deity, “ etc., etc., according to elders who had leisure to speculate about what secures the stability of the tribe that would spawn the town, the city, the empire.
O, holy spirit, soul that descends into my hands, I am tempered with disposition by your grace, filled with liveliness and vivacity. I am child of immaterial intelligence, sentient and a vital principle to life of my world, world of my life mirroring me.
I am the activating or essential principle of something, what, who knows, questioning the air.
I am some “life or consciousness having an independent type of existence,” some “bodily constitution that is the source of energy
I am a “vital power,” a subtle substance, a special attitude, a frame of mind, a brisk quality—so disposed as to briskly hike again to a high
Berkeley hillside “under” the stars (odd idiom) and overlooking
the expansive Bay on whose black waters apparently floats the emerald city, San Francisco, ascendant.
-- gary e. davis --- 7:51 PM