Nothing excites me more than studying, researching and pondering etymology, derivatives, word usage, etc. This little gem, from Owen Barfield’s book History in English Words, was waiting for me in my inbox when I woke up this Sunday morning. It is not enough for me to copy into my commonplace book, I had to share:
In the common words we use everyday the souls of past races, the thoughts and feelings of individual men, stand around us, not dead, but frozen intp their attitudes like the courtiers in the garden of the Sleeping Beauty. The more common a word is, and the simpler its meaning, the bolder very likely is the original thought which it contains and the more intense the intellectual or poetic effort which went to its making. Thus, the word quality is used by most educated people every day of their lives, yet in order that we should have this simple word Plato had to make the tremendous effort (it is one of the most exhausting which man is called on to exert) of turning a vague feeling into a clear thought. He invented the new word ‘poiotes’, ‘what-ness’, as we might say or ‘of-what-kind-ness’, and Cicero translated it by the Latin ‘qualitas’, from ‘qualis’. Language becomes a different thing for us altogether if we can make ourselves realize, can even make ourselves feel how every time the word quality is used, say upon a label in a shop window, that creative effort made by Plato comes into play again. Nor is the acquisition of such a feeling a waste of time; for once we have made it our own, it circulates like blood through the whole of the literature and life about us. It is the kiss which brings the sleeping courtiers to life.