etymology

Will Wagers hyle at airmail.net
Wed Jul 28 10:05:36 EDT 1999


Dear B-Geeks,

Although uncounted examples of apparently irrelevant etymology
can be devised, although innumerable examples of etymology
being turned into a whore for socio-politico-theological reasons--
not to mention pure ignorance--are available, we go too far when
we say that context alone determines meaning. If this were so, any
arbitrary string of grunts would suffice for language. Where is this
*context* coming from?--if not from the "meanings" of the words
(phrases).  Are we saying that a word in question can only be
defined by its use in context--which is determined by some means
other than context? How do we get out of the *infinities* invoked
when meaning is determined by context alone? I can see that the
word "Stop" on a red octagonal(?) sign takes it's meaning from
context, but it is functioning as a *sign*. If words only have meaning
in context, how is it I can string together "meaningless" words and
phrases and end up with a meaningful sentence?

I think that this list--if not the entire academic world--has gone
overboard in relying on context alone, or, rather, by excluding
etymology from the context. No doubt this is a reaction to apparent,
past abuses, but it is an over-reaction.

To an etymologist, the *context* is not just a word's neighbors
on a page, but the living language as it exists in living minds
(There are no known "dead" languages as can be plainly seen on
this list.), the vibrant culture, even human *biology*--language
is a *biological* faculty, not a *spiritual* one.

What we are dealing with--etymology vs. context--is not so much
a property of language as a property of human thought, i.e. the
ability to conceive opposites *without* the ability to reconcile them--
a subject to which the ancients devote a great deal of literature.
(Significantly, Logos is, itself, the resolution of opposites--Matter
and Spirit--which results in Creation.)

The perfect analogue--indeed, perhaps the basis--of the controversy
is "Nature vs. Nurture". But, for any sane geneticist, there is no such
controversy; because, neither exists alone and each derives its
"meaning" from the other.  They only function together, indeed they
only exist together!

The ancients were very concerned with this etymology vs. context
analogy, e.g. Logos as "(Spoken)  Word". What is the context of this
primal utterance?

Regards,


Will Wagers	hyle at airmail.net	     "Reality is the best metaphor."

(P.S. I am certainly not singling out George for my comments.)

>In general, we have done quite a bit of etymology bashing - well deserved,
>perhaps - but it might be appropriate and edifying to state the positive:
>words always get their meaning from context!
>
>George
>
>George A. Goolde
>Professor, Bible & Theology
>Southern California Bible College & Seminary


Will Wagers	hyle at airmail.net	     "Reality is the best metaphor."



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