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.


4 Responses to “Favorite Words, Et Cetera”

  1. Rather than “originalist”, I think you mean “prescriptivist”. Most professional linguists I’m aware of are “descriptivists”, they think that the common usage is by definition correct because language is a social convention, so one is advised to follow Horace’s will of custom. That doesn’t mean one has to like it though.

    • No, I meant what I said. Even prescribed correctness changes with time. A person who insists that only the original meaning will do is an orignialist.

      I’m neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptionist. Not even a proscriptionist. My primary concern with a change in language usage is whether it makes the language more or less useful.

      • So, you’re not a linguist at all and probably didn’t even go to college. I know your type. Partial understandings and “I don’t fit into the status quo, man” gobbledygook to desperately hide the fact that you just don’t have much knowledge on the subject.

        If you actually knew anything, you would understand how your closing comment here is meaningless, bordering nonsensical.

      • I’m not very concerned with theories about language, or systematic judgements about what sort of language is correct; I’m almost entirely concerned with application instead, which makes me no kind of -ist at all.

        But just because I have a greater grasp of English suffixes and their meanings than you do doesn’t mean that your opinion isn’t completely valid.

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