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?

Advertisements

Scrap Paper Poetry #4: We Proudly Serve the Starbucks Overlords

Starbucks Sleeve Poetry Ramblings

It takes a customer asinine

To get 12 oz. of coffee for 4.89.

But we do it anyway

Because we really are stupid, okay?

So just get back to your overpriced joe

And let the StarBorg through you flow.


WE PROUDLY SERVE
the manufactured addiction to overpriced food and drink
and the creation of a uniform “gathering place”
around the world for people to sit on their laptops “socializing.”

Richard Dawkins is Coming to My Campus (And I Need Your Help)!

This Friday, October 11th, the great evolutionary biologist and pope of the Atheists Richard Dawkins will be stopping by my campus as part of his An Appetite for Wonder book tour. I first heard of this only a week ago in that Atheism class that I kind of sort of mentioned in that one post. If you’re familiar with what I tend to post on this blog, you know I don’t really gush about popular figures. While I admire plenty of people, I don’t tend to have specific idols. (Oscar Wilde may be the closest to an exception, but I’m not very foppish and don’t believe in the mighty sovereignty of aestheticism). However, I must say that I became inordinately excited that Dawkins was coming to campus (and that the event is freaking FREE for students).

Richard Dawkins - Appetite for Wonder US Book Tour

I need your help. 

I first heard about Dawkins in relation to his ideas on religion, undoubtedly through YouTube. It was shortly afterwards that I looked into his books. I have The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, gifted to me by a good friend of mine and fellow Dawkins admirer of sorts. The only books of his that I have read so far are The Blind Watchmaker (fantastic read to get a better grip on the basics of evolution) and The God Delusion (an entertaining and often insightful look at the arguments against the belief in God). While I don’t agree with every single idea that comes out of his mouth, I do agree with many of his points, his passion for science, and his all-around humor.

What I need your help with is coming up with a question for Dawkins during the Q&A portion of the event. A mic will be given to the audience, so that people can ask him questions. I’d love to ask him a question, but I do not yet know what I want to ask him exactly. I have an idea of what I want to get at, but I don’t know how to phrase it.

This is where your help comes in.

One of my thoughts concerns Dawkins’ continual rejection of the assertion that Dawkins is himself a fundamentalist – just a fundamentalist of science rather than a Christian fundamentalist. I’ve read and heard his replies and I do not want to ask him this question that he has head perhaps hundreds of times.

What I want to get at is whether or not he acknowledges the merits of religion – not a specific religion, but the concept of religion in general. Religion is wildly popular – that’s a gross, gross understatement. It is a worldwide phenomenon and it seems so… natural. Religion appeals to our humanity in a way that science does not quite do. It’s true that science has the capacity to be wondrous, awe-inspiring, and beautiful – poetic, even – but it doesn’t have the emotional oomph that religion seems to have. Humans are magical thinkers. We can not help but to initially attribute phenomena to supernatural forces with workings beyond our human grasp.

Science lacks the spiritual element (figuratively speaking). Sure, scientists hold conferences and schmooze with each other here and there, but it doesn’t provide that connectedness that religion generally seems to have. Of course, unfortunately, pretty much all the major religions are salvationist and guilt-based, teaching people that they are not good enough as they are and that they need to work toward some better transcendental life or some such nonsense. That is no good obviously, but that does not mean that religion in itself is bad, does it?

According to people like Dawkins, science and rationality is enough to amaze us, to keep us enthralled with life, the world, and everything. But where does irrationality fit into all of this? Surely, he isn’t supporting a Vulcan-like existence, where everyone must always be logical at every point of life…

Can you help me formulate a question around this? Or even come up with other questions? What do you want me to ask Dawkins (if I do in fact get a chance to ask him anything)? You have until Friday, October 11th 7PM (PST) to get in on the action, so please, please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!