Easter, Eggs, and The Etymologicon

My family, not being particularly religious, doesn’t celebrate Easter. The most we do is take my youngest siblings Easter egg hunting. Maybe eat at Red Robin. And that’s if we’re feeling particularly special on this otherwise normal Sunday.

Don’t worry, this isn’t an “Easter is a pagan holiday and Jesus doesn’t exist post.” Over on The Big Blog of All the S#!t I Know, I’ve been partaking in [not really] the April A-Z Challenge. The month is almost over and I’m only on the letter “E.” Hooray for laziness. And I’ve also been neglecting this blog, so I’m just using the topic of Easter as inspiration and to segue into talking about etymology (because it’s alliterative, of course).

Words are fascinating, to express my feelings simply. They rock my crocs and allow me to convey ideas both inane and relevant. As much as I aspire to be one, I am no professional linguist, just an amateur lover of language. For fellow word-lovers, a fun read is The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language by Mark Forsyth, the blogger over at The Inky Fool. Forsyth is a level 99 etymology nerd, which makes me both love him and be jealous of him. It’s a lot of etymology packed into less than 300 pages and every other page, you’ll be going “Oh! So that’s where that comes from!”

Another site logophiles will find equally fun and useful is the Online Etymology Dictionary, started by one guy who was also a huge etymology nerd and figured the interwebs needed a proper, coherent etymological dictionary. It’s been added to by loads of people and has become pretty extensive. It’s my go-to site for looking up basic etymologies of words. “Hm, I wonder where the word ‘cockroach’ comes from?” Oh well let’s see. European dude’s bastardization of the Spanish “cucaracha” (chafer, beetle, kind of caterpillar – is “cuca” related to cocoon?)

A certaine India Bug, called by the Spaniards a Cacarootch, the which creeping into Chests they eat and defile with their ill-sented dung [Capt. John Smith, “Virginia,” 1624]. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

And this often leads to a descent into the etymology hole, much like the Wikipedia hole and the cute-animals-on-YouTube hole.

Etymology’s fun isn’t just in memorizing where words come from. Words are more than packaged, literal definitions. They are social vehicles that get us from A to B to X, Y, Z. They get us out of bed and through the door, at dinner with a friend to bed with a lover. The etymology of “etymology” is from the Greek for “the study of the true sense.” This includes the social, cultural history of the word, the psychologies involved with its evolution and use. While a gene pool and a swimming pool might not technically have the same historical origins, is it a coincidence that both senses of pool are tied so closely together in our minds?

A gene pool is a collection of DNA. A swimming pool is a collection of water. So what if the gene pool sense of “pool” comes from the French for chicken, poule, and the swimming pool “pool” is from the Old English/Germanic pol for small body of water? As with John Smith’s mishearing of “cockroach,” when someone hears a language they are unfamiliar with, they automatically search for and attach to familiar-sounding words, whether or not they’re actual cognates. It’s narrow-minded to think words are nothing more than what the Oxford English Dictionary says they are. As a friend of mine said, “Remember that language is no more or less real than math, and words are no more things than unicorns.”

To me, that pretty much sums it up.

Do you have a passion for words? Or are they just tools to get you through the day? Other thoughts?

Small Talk (Warning: Awkward Ahead)

Setting: College cafeteria, lunch hour, daylight pervades the room. Brain dead students scattered around tables.

Players: Two college students, not previously acquainted with each other.

Ready… and… ACTION!

Socially Adjusted Person #1: [Takes the open seat opposite stranger] Hi, I’m Socially Adjust Person #1.

Socially Adjusted Person #2: Hey, I’m Socially Adjusted Person #2. Nice to meet you. [Extends warm, friendly hand]

SAP #1: [Takes hand] Nice to meet you, too. So, what are you majoring in?

SAP #2: Political science. You?

SAP #1: Awesome. I’m majoring in underwater basket weaving.

SAP #2: [OMG face] Whoa, there’s a major for that?

SAP #1: Yep. And it’s totes amazing.

SAP #2: It sounds like something a writer would make up in an effort to be funny.

[We’re straying from the point]

SAP #1: Hey, let’s hang out sometime. I know this really cool italian restaurant served by dangerous convicts.

SAP #2: Sure! That sounds great! See you later, new friend!

End scene.

What just took place? Based on extensive research conducted with large social samples compiled over the course of 18 years, my sources inform me that this is what is called “Casual Small Talk” or CST, as I like to call it. [No, English Prof, this is not a run-on sentence.]

Although I have observed CST for a considerable time, studied its nuances, and recorded its rhythms and patterns, the phenomenon still baffles me. What allows a human being to possess the incredible ability of CST? Is it genetic? Is it random? Is it caused by bites from mutated spiders? The research is ongoing.

As a member of Homo Sapiens Awkardiensis (HSA), I seem to lack the social component that allows me to interact like CST-carriers. The ease in which they engage in conversation with complete strangers is quite extraordinary. How do random topics come to them? How are they capable of voicing these random topics without difficulty? Have they no fear of rejection? Have they no fear of the “awkward pause” phenomenon?

Homo Sapiens Awkardiensis is void of the CST gene or whatever causes the development of CST. When faced with social interaction, particularly with strangers, HSA tend to exhibit one or a combination of these traits:

  • Involuntary freezing
  • Speech impedments (stuttering, sober slurring)
  • Extreme volume levels (mousiness VS obnoxiousness)
  • Hyperventilating
  • Blank mind (can’t think of anything to say)
  • Lack of excitement/general reaction (mistaken for disinterest, actually signifies timidity)

And these are only a handful of attributes of the HSA in action (or inaction).

Has interesting and insightful conversations with friends... in head

Even penguins are socially awkward

In college, the HSA is at its weakest. We are forced into entirely new environments in which we know absolutely no one. With minimal knowledge of our surroundings and of what to expect, we are Doomed. You see? I just capitalized “doom.” You know shiz is serious when it’s unnecessarily capitalized.

However, no guts, no glory.

Immanuel Kant wrote “Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity.” Similarly, socializing is man’s leaving his self-caused seclusion. To survive, to thrive, humans must adapt. We must be able to at least pretend to be capable of keeping up with the daunting evolution of social interaction. Introduce yourself. Smile. Read HowStuffWorks and Cracked for interesting topics to randomly talk about.

The previous paragraph is an example of hypocrisy at its finest.

What do you think of small talk? Love it? Hate it? Share your socially awkward moments (college or otherwise) in the comments.

Read some more about social awkwardness:

How to NOT be socially awkward

Awkwardness

Embrace Your Awkardness

Team Awksome