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!
Genius comes from Proto Indo European gen, meaning something like “produce” or “generate”, the progenitor of generations of words of all kinds — including progenitor, generate, kind, kin, king, kindergarten, gentle, gender, general, generic, generous, indigenous, genesis, genital, nascent, natal, native, nation, renaissance, and a dozen others.
In Latin gen became the root of the verb gignere, “beget, produce”. This verb in turn was the root of the word genius, which in Roman times referred not to a person’s innate talent, but to a guardian spirit — a spirit guide. Originally, the genius was a guardian spirit who looked after a family; thus it was most likely associated with one’s ancestors (and thus the association with PIE gen is obvious). Later, genius came to mean one’s own personal spirit guides. Saying that someone “had a genius for cooking”, for example, meant that they had a spirit guide who helped them with cooking.
In Roman mythology, not just people, but also families, cities, and nations had spirit guides as well. The genius of Rome, for example, was portrayed a winged young man. While this belief isn’t so current nowadays, it is held by some groups, e.g. the anthroposophists (followers of Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy, which underlies Waldorf education).
When genius was first borrowed into English in the 1300’s, it also referred to spirit guides or angels. Starting in the 1600’s, it began to refer to a person’s innate talent — the meaning which is now prevalent.
Phonosemantically, genius begins with the sound of “j”, a difficult decision or constricted doorway; long “e” indicates stamina through hardship, and “n” is a target, a goal. Overall the first syllable may be pointing toward the idea of purposeful birth — birth from the “j” (all human birth is through a constricted doorway!), and the purpose is the hard journey (”e”) to a goal (”n”). Note that this syllable is shared with that selfish, purpose-driven progenitor, the gene.
The rest of genius is the unstressed syllable “ius”, pronounced “yus”. Here, the “y” — naive and energetic like a newborn — passes into thoughtful contemplation (short “u”) and concludes with the strength, drive and expansion of “s”.
I wonder if the very form of the word genius reinforces the stereotype of the gifted person who has a difficult childhood?…
From Latin gloria, “great praise”, “honor”; the adjective form in Latin was gloriosus. Both terms descended through Old French into English around 1300, and were used to mean “magnificence” and “magnificent”. However, it’s unknown where the original Latin word gloria itself came from.
Glory and glorious give a sense of a well-rounded, wholesome energy that arises from the light of Source and serves to ignite other energies, giving rise to more such powers.
Gods and Guides
In ancient pagan times, gods were everywhere — everyone had at least one personal god to watch over their progress, and there were gods that lived in your kitchen, in your fireplace, in your community, guarding your family and the landscape nearby. These days, many of those who believe in only one god nevertheless believe in spirit guides (or angels) that are similarly numerous and ubiquitous. It’s remarkable how similar the concepts of god and guide are, and how similar they are in sound, as well.
They come from completely different sources. God comes ultimately from the Proto Indo European root gheu(e), meaning “to call” or “to invoke”; from that was derived the noun ghut, “that which is invoked”. Literally, then, a god was “something you pray to”. Note that it really was something: god was originally neuter, and used for both gods and goddesses. God only became masculine after the advent of Christianity. Ghut became god in Old English, and has remained the same ever since.
Guide, meanwhile, is derived from Proto Indo European weid, a verb meaning “to see”. This root is also the source of wisdom, guise, idol, kaleidoscope, wit, view, vision, vista, advice, provide, review, idea, history, penguin, and Rig-Veda. Weid became wit in Proto Germanic, and witan (meaning “show the way”) in Frankish, one of the ancestors of French; it became guider in Old French, and was borrowed as guide into English in 1374.
Both words start off with “g”, a complex letter that appears to represent the Source, a container that is filled with void and yet is the ultimate grounding of everything. God then moves on to short “o”, the vowel of the fundamental Source, while guide has long “i”, a “roomy” vowel of mind and art. Both words then end with the “d” of decisions, doorways.
Both words, then, begin with the ultimate source, and end by bringing that source to an ending or decision point. The different vowel qualities indicate the manner of that change: the short “o” of god being a process closely connected to the source from which it sprang, and the long “i” of guide being a process also connected to source, but perhaps through the intermediary of mind or art.
Certainly in my experience of guides vs. gods, guides are a little further removed from Source — at least in the sense that they’re easier to contact, easier to interact with directly. Gods require rarified states of mind, “high vibrations”, to reach — they sometimes have gatekeeper minions, or tests you have to pass, and so forth. My impression is that this isn’t capriciousness or snobbishness on their part, but simply the fact that they exist at such a “pure” level that we have to work to “cleanse” ourselves enough to reach them. Guides, on the other hand, are closer to where we are — they may be relatives that have passed on, elementals, and the like, more like us, and easier to reach. I find it wonderful that the difference in sound between the words expresses both their similarities and their differences.
Have you had any similar experiences or impressions?