My old blog, the Word of the Day, is defunct, and I’m getting ready to take it down. Before I do, though, I’m going to repost some of the best words here over the next few weeks. Enjoy!
Poetry began life as the Proto Indo European root kwoiwo, meaning “making”. It entered Greek as poein, “to make or compose”; the derived word poetes meant “maker” or “author”. From there it came into Latin as poeta, “author, poet”, and thence into Old French as poete and 14th century English as poet.
Prose, meanwhile, started out as a compound word in Latin: proversa, from pro (”forward”) + versus (”turning”), meaning “straightforward, direct”. It was shortened over time to prosa, and used in the phrase prosa oratio, referring to “straightforward speech” (i.e. without all that versification nonsense). From Latin it passed briefly through Old French before entering English about the same time that poetry did.
The phonosemantics of prose are identical to that of praise and prize — a focal point (”p”) is infused with energy (”r”); the energy is transformed in some way (depending on the vowel) and ends with a kind of directed flourish (”z”). In the case of prose, that energy is grounded and earthy, as is fitting for straightforward speech.
Poetry, meanwhile, has the same point (”p”), the focus of energy that starts out grounded, as in prose, but is quickly transformed, moving with steady force (short “e”) along a path (”t”) (referring to the regularity of verse?), and only then is infused with energy (”r”) which continues indefinitely (long “i”).
From Proto Indo European preti, with a sense of “recompense” or “payback”. Other descendants of preti include precious, price, prize, appraise, and depreciate. In Latin it became pretiare, and in late Latin preciare; in Old French it was preisier, and it was this form that entered English in the 1200’s, replacing the native Germanic words lof and hreth.
Praise starts with “p”, similar in meaning to the explosive start of “b”, but less explosive and more concerned with a particular place, a point, a location (the object of praise?). At that point a great deal of energy is focused (”r”) which is elastic and spreads out wide (long “a”), ending with a sort of directed flourish (”z”).
It’s interesting to compare this with some similar words:
- Prize, closely related to praise, has the same phonosemantics, except that the energy is oriented more specifically towards “mind and art”, and perhaps creative endeavors.
- Pray is identical to praise, as well, except there is no directed flourish at the end: there is only the point infused with energy, which then expands.
Prayer is from Proto Indo European prek, which meant “ask” or “entreat”; it is also the ancestor of precarious and postulate. In Latin, prek generated the noun prex, “prayer, request, entreaty”; and the verb precari, “ask earnestly, beg” was derived in turn from that. From precari came the adjective precarius, “obtained by prayer”; and from that came the noun precaria, “thing gotten by prayer”. (Thus, if you prayed for a horse and you got one, you could call it a precaria.) In Old French this became preiere, and it was borrowed into English as prayer by 1300.
Prayer starts with a point-source with great energy (perhaps the emotional state of the one praying), and the energy spreads out and extends from there. The sound “y” indicates a trusting optimism in the result, and the “r” tacked to the end gives more force to that trust. Overall the impression is one of a message sent out with trust, optimism, and great emotional power.
- Don’t forget the spring reading promotion going on now: help me promote my novel, Mere America: First Nations, and get $120 worth of Druid Journal offerings!
- Getting Weddinged, and other alternatives for non-Christian, non-civic marriages.
- There are two ways to do violence to the truth: by lying, and by silence.
- A system of ethics built on comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; it would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle. – Einstein
- When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. – Lao Tzu
- The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives. – Einstein
- We faced — and a continue to face — a terrible choice in Libya. Why does this keep happening to us? My latest at Pagan+Politics: The Bed We Made.
- One can not reflect in streaming water. Only those who know internal peace can give it to others. – Lao Tzu
- Go on a date with the world.
- The great enemy of the truth is very often not the deliberate, contrived lie, but the persistent, persuasive, unrealistic myth.-John Kennedy
- Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. – Lao Tzu