Words of the Day: Norn, Oak, Objective, Subjective

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!


manondeltaA Norn is a kind of female spirit found in Norse theology, who can cause great toil and trouble, or bring blessings and happiness. There are a great many of them, but according to Snorri Sturluson, author of the Prose Edda, the three most important Norns are giantess sisters who draw water from the Well of Fate and with it water the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. The names of these three Norns were Urðr (wyrd, “fate” or simply “future”), Verðandi (derived from the Old Norse verb verða, “to become”) and Skuld (related to shall); thus they were all concerned with the future, in one way or another.

The origin of the name Norn is unknown. One possibility is that it is related to the Swedish word norna, “to warn, to speak secretly”, which may be imitative (like mutter, growl, and howl, the sound of the word imitates the sound itself). It may also be related to a word meaning “to twist, to twine”, and may refer to the twisting of fate, although the idea that the Norns wove the fate of the world appears to have been borrowed from Greek theology.

Norn is a word that thrums with earthy, solid energy, directed powerfully toward one goal — the future. Compare it to other earthy, directed words with a similar sound pattern, such as thorn, born, morn(ing), horn, and warn.


interviewfrankmaceowenIn Proto Indo European, the word for “oak tree” was derwo or dreu, but in the daughter language Proto Germanic derwo/dreu was replaced by aiks. Where aiks came from is a mystery, but it was very possibly borrowed into Proto Germanic from some unknown neighboring non-Proto Indo European language. Proto Germanic has a large number of words not derived from Proto Indo European, leading some researchers to speculate that the early Germanic tribes had extensive contact with an ancient non-Indo European culture in northern Europe, now lost to history.

Why aiks replaced derwo/dreu is a unknown; but given the holiness of the oak tree for the peoples of Europe in ancient times, perhaps aiks was brought in as a euphemism for derwo/dreu. Later, derwo/dreu descended into English as tree, while aiks became ac in Old English and oak in Modern English.

The sound of the word oak suggests a well-rounded, whole, earthy energy, with no known source or beginning, which is wrapped up and contained (perhaps even concealed).

Objective, Subjective

barackobamareadingThe notions of “objective” (real, true, unbiased) and “subjective” (personal, unreliable, biased) seem fundamental to the world today. Indeed, modern science would be impossible without these notions. But these words, and their opposition, are a relatively recent development.

Objective is from the Latin compound objectus, “something presented (to the mind or sight)”, from ob (”against”) + jacere (”to throw”); the metaphor was that something seen, or presented to the mind, was thrown up against you. Thus objective originally referred to an essentially subjective experience. In English, objective appeared around 1620, and meant “considered in relation to its object”. The object of a sentence is that which is “thrown up against” the action of the subject and verb. The meaning of “unbiased” did not appear until the middle of the 19th century.

Subject is also from Latin, subjectus, “something placed under another”, from sub (”under”) + jacere (”to throw”). Frequently used in reference to subject peoples of the Empire. The subject of a sentence is something “under the control of” the verb, a meaning first found in English in the early 1600’s. Subjective appeared in English in the 1300’s, meaning “something acted upon”; the meaning “existing in the mind” only appeared around 1700, possibly related to the meaning “subject matter” (a meaning borrowed from Aristotle, who spoke of a topic of inquiry as being “under” the inquiry). It was only in the 19th century, a time when the idea of objective vs. subjective ideas were first really developed in Western culture, that the two words objective and subjective encountered each other and were placed in opposition.

Phonosemantically, both of these words seem to encode the progress of an idea from “inside” (”su”) or “outside” (”o”) the mind up to where it bursts in on the consciousness (”b”); this is a doorway (”j”), at which time it moves into the mind (container) itself (”ec”). Interestingly, the subjective source (”su”) is phonosemantically much more active and directed than the objective source (”o”), which may reflect the idea in Western culture that the subconscious is something apart, active, and perhaps dangerous.


A few links and bits of news:

The Hospitable Warrior

My latest posts at Pagan+Politics concern poverty and war, and how they both arise because of a failure to honor the pagan notion of hospitality (trust, mutual vulnerability). But there is hope; against all odds, matters have been improving in the last 50 years. I talk about the purpose of tribes and their relevance to the modern world, and why just a little bit of hospitality goes a long way. Check it out!

Twitter Feed

I finally broke down and signed up for Twitter. I update once or twice a day with quotes, links of interest, and similar things relating to meditation, nature, spirit, and the ancient world. Find me @druidjournal.

A fascinating article about a woman who lives without money. Interesting particularly from the point of view of philanthropic economics.


2 responses to “Words of the Day: Norn, Oak, Objective, Subjective”

    1. A beautiful story, Michelle! Thanks for sharing!


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