Sunday, April 05, 2009

More Truth Than Fiction...

A wordsmith is defined as, “a person who works with words.” Certainly I make no claims to being an expert wordsmith.
There are so many words I do not know and so many words that I cannot pronounce. Yet words make for a very fascinating study.
The extensive process of studying words and their history is called etymology. Etymology is a new hobby of mine so allow me to apologize should I attempt too many references as to how we derived our words.

For example, look at the word “gospel.” Literally this term means “good news.” Primarily the word refers to the gospel (good news) as found in the New Testament portion of the Holy Bible. Sometimes if a person is driving home a point religious or otherwise with great emphasis, he or she may say, “That’s the gospel truth.”

“Gospel” made its way into our current usage from Old English.
In those days the expression was “god spel.” Good was spelled “god” from the German “gut” or “guten” and spel was a word meaning “communication.” Thus “god spel” meant “good communication.”

Another interesting word used largely in religious circles is the word “atone.” If you want to be “at one” with God, just combine the terms “at” with “one” and you get “atone” If you are seeking “at onement” with God then you are seeking “atonement.”

The word “list” is interesting. If you look this one up in a good dictionary be prepared to see definitions of at least nine different words denoting “list.” Being from the Beaumont area I think of ships that carry an unbalanced load. They will tilt to one side or the other. In other words they will “list.” When I “list” my ear to your conversation it is the act of “listening.” Sound far-fetched? Don’t answer that.

When you “think” then you will find a solution to your problem. And that comes from Old English which was two words, “then can,” later becoming “thenken,” and finally to our current “thinking.”

Sometimes we make up our own words that have little or nothing to do with etymology.

Julia, my 9-year-old granddaughter came up with a word that makes a lot of sense. Of course Julia is brilliant. Whoever had a granddaughter that was otherwise? Her word came from the term, “vegetable oil.” To her, this was more syllables than necessary so she settled for the term, “vegetaboil.” Pretty clever, huh?

My wife contrived a word. At least we think it is original. She navigates while I drive. Houston traffic is horrendous at times and she has to talk fast. Rather than say “next exit” when we need to get off of the freeway, she will announce “nexit.” This is not an official word to my knowledge but it certainly works for us.

And I think that I have contrived a word. “Bitterful” is a term I use at times. When I have one of those good/bad days at the office I’ll tell my wife that today I experienced both the beautiful and the “bitterful.” She pretends to know what I mean.

Perhaps you have a family word that you have coined. By the way, “coin” means, “made up or invented.” If so, e-mail me and I’ll collect the “new” words and print them in a future column (keep them nice).

Words are interesting and mysterious. Each word has a fascinating story to tell. The dictionary seems to strain for a definition of the “written word” that being, “… a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use.”

And that’s the gospel truth.

Winston Hamby


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