Favorite Words, Et Cetera
I’m not really an ‘originalist’. I don’t subscribe to the idea that the first manifestation of a thing is necessarily better, purer, or more useful than the forms it may later take.
But I do often find that the original usages of words are frequently more illuminating than the meanings to which they have come to refer. Maybe this is because bad people find it in their interests to corrupt the expression of certain ideas, or maybe it’s just a coincidence of linguistic drift.
Nevertheless, I maintain a fondness for cosmopolitan, and the days when it meant more than Ten Exciting New Fashion Atrocities and Five Places Your Man Secretly Hopes You Won’t Put Your Tongue. And more than its formal, modern meaning of “belonging to no specific nation” or “drawn from the world as a whole rather than a nation”.
The suffix -politan comes from the Greek word polis, which means city or city-state, and thus means ‘citizen’. But cosmos is a more complex idea. It roughly translates as ‘universe’, but rather than having spatial or material associations, it refers to the entirety of the natural order; its companion-opposite is chaos, the unformed, undifferentiated, and unruled potentiality from which the world-as-we-know-it sprang.
Someone who is truly cosmopolitan isn’t just a citizen of the world, their allegiance flows to the deepest nature of reality. The degeneration of meaning which has reduced the word to a trashy sex mag for tasteless young women is utterly to be regretted.