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Random Word Trails

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I love words. Specifically, I love the way that the meaning of a word can change over time and in different contexts. I find myself thinking of the origins and meanings of English words quite often. Because my first language is not English (it's Hebrew, in case you're wondering), I sometimes make connections that native English speakers may have made when they were children. Today I want to take you on two such word trails. They are not entirely unrelated. I'm reading a book on the history of philosophy, and you encounter all sorts of Greek and Latin words when you do that.

The first word is content. I've been thinking a lot about content vs art lately, so it is no wonder that I read about being happy and content with life, I made the connection. Content (the noun) is 1) something that is contained: the contents of a box, a table of contents; 2) substance, meaning, essence: the book is well written but has violent content. Content (the adjective) is the state of being satisfied: she is content with her life. That made the psychologist in me wonder if the reason these two meanings come from the same word is that we are most content when we are held or contained; when we feel safe and loved. There must be a whole slew of psychoanalytical literature about this.

The second word is politics. I was reading about Aristotle, and the book made a connection between politics and the word polis - the city-state in ancient Greece. That made me wondered about the word police. It turns out I was right (my English is advancing, I must be at the level of an 8th Grader now!). Both politic (being shrewd in social circumstances) and politics (the art or science of government) both come from the Greek word polis. The word police (both as a verb, to regulate and as a noun, the body that regulates the system of laws) also comes from the same word. And (bonus!) the word policy (prudence in managing affairs, or the procedure to manage affairs prudently) comes from the same root.

Well, wasn't that fun?


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