Why do etymology at all?

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Mon Jul 26 07:53:44 EDT 1999

At 6:27 AM -0500 7/26/99, Jefferson, Robert C. wrote:
>How about a very general question, why do etymology at all.
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From:	Steven Cox [SMTP:scox at Mail.Sparkice.COM.CN]
>> Sent:	Monday, July 26, 1999 6:32 AM
>> To:	Biblical Greek
>> Subject:	Re: ekklesia (in LXX)
>> My personal opinion is that the etymology of EKKLHSIA is about as relevant
>> as the connection between AGORAIOI and the assembly from which they took
>> their name (sic). If EKKLHSIA means "called out ones" then by the same
>> logic
>> those "lewd fellows of the baser sort" in Acts17:5 were philosophers.

It's clear that B-Greek posters hold a broad range of individual valuations
of etymology, from sheer contempt to idolaters (if I may use that term for
one who thinks that etymology is the mystical key to all questions of Greek
lexicography and diction).

Personally, I think that the etymology of a word or root in Greek as well
as what can be known of its earliest recorded usage is always fascinating
and often illuminating regarding later usage, but I think that it can and
has been readily  shown that etymology often enough is worthless as a key
to usage of a word at a particular time and place and that contextual
factors and information about contemporary usage of the word or root must
be the primary indicator.

In the current case, as I argued yesterday, I don't think it is
demonstrable that EKKLHSIA in GNT Koine ever had a discernible relationship
to the verb EKKALEW, although it clearly derives etymologically from
EKKALEW in the first instance. Yet I think that the lexical history of a
word or root, which includes etymology, is often (although not always)
useful for understanding the usage in a particular time or place. As I've
argued hitherto, I don't think we can altogether dispense with either the
diachronic or the synchronic perspective on NT Koine Greek.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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