YHVH = haShem
dwashbur at nyx.net
Thu Aug 26 23:40:32 EDT 1999
> >Will Wagers wrote:
> > > >At 09:30 PM 8/24/99 -0400, you wrote:
> > > >
> > > > >
> > > > >Someone earlier mentioned a book that detailed etymological origins of
> > > > >Biblical Hebrew terms. Could they look this up for us and
> >explain what the
> > > > >book says about SHEM ? SHEMAYIM? etc. ?
> > > >
> > > >Etymological studies are interesting enough- but they really do not help
> > > >much in understanding either usage or meaning in context.
> > >
> > > I disagree. History is the context of all.
> >This is a nice cliche,
> Really? I've never heard it put that way and thought it summed up my
> argument nicely without boring everyone to death.
I've heard it many times. It really doesn't say much.
> >However, in the context of language, words mean what
> >they mean because a society chooses to use them that way. How
> >they got where they are is sometimes an interesting study, but it
> >frequently tells us virtually nothing about what the word meant at
> >the time in question.
> I think saying that "a society chooses" is a misleading, anthropomorphic
> description of the process, intimating that society has a mind analogous
> to a human mind, that it is free to choose, and that it consciously chooses.
Yes, it does. An individual may arbitrarily use a word in a certain
manner, but it won't actually carry that meaning in anyone else's
vocabulary until a segment of the person's society chooses to
recognize the meaning he has given it. An example: when my
niece was younger, she tended to use the word "compared" in
contexts that generally called for "according." Hence she'd say
"The car isn't running, compared to daddy." She meant that her
father had told her the car wasn't running. Does "compare" now
carry a meaning akin to "according"? No, because she was the
only one who ever used it that way. Now, had her parents and their
friends begun to use it that way, and influenced others in the
circles beyond theirs picked it up, a society might have picked up
the meaning and chosen to use the word that way. That's how
words acquire meaning.
> The fact is: *society chooses* to use words in a remarkably consistent
> manner, to modify those meanings in logical ways, and to choose most
> often to have meanings mean what they have always meant: This is one
> thing we can learn from etymology.
Not so. If I tell you that you're a nice person, am I calling you
ignorant? Because that's the word's etymology.
> In this case, the "society choosing" what the words mean is two
> millennia after the fact.
> I disagree that the history of a word tells us nothing about the meaning:
> In fact without a history, a word is meaningless.
Really? "Television" had no history before the 1930's and yet it
appeared fully formed. Greek writers including Paul were famous
for coining new words, and German makes up new words on the fly
all the time. If "without a history, a word is meaningless" then
explain the etymology of "Smurf" to me.
> Oddly, I often see people, who disavow that etymology is useful,
> nevertheless argue that a word means such-and-such in this context
> and so-and-so in that at this-or-that time, i.e. history or etymology.
A word's history is not the same as its etymology. "Breakfast,"
until a few decades ago, meant "the first meal of the day, taken in
the morning." Thanks to a successful ad campaign by Village Inn,
it now means "a particular category of foodstuffs including but not
limited to bacon and eggs, pakcakes, waffles and fresh fruit."
Thus, when the man in the commercial says "I like breakfast, and I
like it at six o'clock in the evening" he is redefining a word right
before our eyes and we don't even realize it. That's the word's
history; its etymology is something quite different. That involves
breaking it down into its component parts and explaining how it
originated. You're confusing two very different fields here.
"Oh, no! They've all become giant Swiss lederhosen-clad
dancing yodelers!" "Talk about unpredictable!" - P&B
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