Classical meaning of words

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Classical meaning of words

Postby ZLVT » Sun Jul 06, 2008 5:04 pm UTC

I've often had a word in mind with a very poetic meaning originally, but which has changed its meaning over the years. Many words which come from foreign and or ancient roots are distinctly different from their original meanings. The problem is that many such words could live comfortably in the "words you didn't know that describe things perfectly" thread.
Recently I learned that "Apology" by Plato comes from the original Greek "απολογία" meaning "to speak in defence of one's beliefs or cause", in turn comming from the roots "απο" meaning "away"* and "λογία" meaning "collection" (such as for the poor).
Now, απολογία would likely be translated as "defence" today but it still doesn't capture the essence of the word. Often in such a case I've said things like "apology (in the classical sense)" but that's rather cumbersome. Is there any way in which it can be made clear that a word is intended to be understood in its original meaning or (in the case of words clearly derived from other English or possibly common romance words) the "logical" meaning. For instance:
Radical, an ordinary English word once meaning something akin to "something likely to inspire change" or "different from the norm"
enthrall, form the Norse "thrall" meaning slave, would mean to enslave (though the modern meaning is pretty close)
awesome, from the word "awe", meaning something inspiring awe

*just as πεμπω=I send and αποπεμπω=I dismiss (lit. send away)
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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby liza » Sun Jul 06, 2008 11:41 pm UTC

ZLVT wrote:Often in such a case I've said things like "apology (in the classical sense)" but that's rather cumbersome.
...
enthrall, form the Norse "thrall" meaning slave, would mean to enslave (though the modern meaning is pretty close)
awesome, from the word "awe", meaning something inspiring awe...

I too say "(in the classical sense)". I don't know, it's not ideal but it works.
The 'enslave' meaning of enthrall is recognizable by context. There are few contexts in which the meaning of the word would be ambiguous.
I too lament the loss of the classical "awesome". I rather like that sense of the word. Luckily, there are a host of synonyms for it so at least the concept isn't lost/nearly inexpressible.
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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby gibberishtwist » Mon Jul 07, 2008 3:37 am UTC

Awesome and radical both came to mind when I saw the thread title. I try to make a point of using them in classical contexts when I can. Fantastic is the only other one I can think of right now. I like the older meaning of "queer" (strange), but I don't know if it has a "classical" meaning the way awesome or radical does.
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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby Simbera » Mon Jul 07, 2008 5:04 am UTC

I suppose it depends what context you are using it in, but if it were in poetry, the ambiguity (and potential ambivalence) would probably be desirable. Just let the reader figure it out. You might have to clarify in other situations, by either using a synonym or doing the whole "in the classical sense" thing.

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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby ZLVT » Mon Jul 07, 2008 7:04 am UTC

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
Nobody said elves were nice.
Elves are bad.

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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Jul 09, 2008 4:04 am UTC

ZLVT wrote:Radical, an ordinary English word once meaning something akin to "something likely to inspire change" or "different from the norm"

No, what it *once* meant was something having to do with roots. It came to mean, through the concept of radical reform or radical change (fundamentally reforming or changing something from the very roots), a notion of change-inspiring or extremely different from the norm.

If this was not a typo on your part, I'm curious as to what radically different meaning you think "radical" has now, if not "something likely to inspire change".
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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby SpitValve » Wed Jul 09, 2008 10:26 am UTC

It also means "awesome". The ninja turtles used it.

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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby the_stabbage » Thu Jul 10, 2008 12:58 pm UTC

It seems to me if you wanted to use "apology" in the original sense, you could just use "apologia". Probably most people wouldn't know what you meant though.

Ancient Greek seems to have a lot of interesting abstract nouns that would fit so well in modern speech. But they didn't have as many words for colours as we do in English now. No "teal-fingered dawn" for them :P

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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby Eugo » Thu Jul 10, 2008 6:14 pm UTC

My favo/u/rite pet peeve here is "pathetic". It went so far astray from its classic meaning of "subject to feeling, capable of feeling, impassioned" (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pathetic) to today's meaning of just plain "miserable". Just like that miserable Pathetique simphony of Tchaikovsky.
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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby goofy » Thu Jul 10, 2008 6:24 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:My favo/u/rite pet peeve here is "pathetic". It went so far astray from its classic meaning of "subject to feeling, capable of feeling, impassioned" (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pathetic) to today's meaning of just plain "miserable".


Sure, in 1737. Seems like you've been holding this grudge for quite a while.

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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby Velifer » Thu Jul 10, 2008 8:27 pm UTC

I have a copy of NTC's Dictionary of Changes in Meaning that, while not particularly comprehensive, is fun to browse through.

It also helps me. My family is from Appalachia, and education wasn't a priority for them. The vocabulary they used was small and packed with meanings the modern world left behind decades or centuries ago. I read many old books while growing up, and now my vocabulary is excellent--just 150 years out of date.
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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby kurwamac » Fri Jul 11, 2008 12:42 am UTC

Meanings change. Dictionaries reflect the language; they don't prescribe it.

There are a lot of would-be pedants — bad English teachers and the like — who have a particular bugbear about 'nice'. Now in its most common sense it's a pretty wishy-washy, all-purpose word; as George Mikes said, you could live in England for years and not be aware that there were any other adjectives. But these pretentious paedagogues get all huffy about this use, and tell their hapless charges that the word should mean 'subtle', as in 'nice distinction'.

That, however, is not the oldest meaning. The word derives from the Latin nescius, meaning 'ignorant'. So it's childish, but fun, to tell one of these people that they are nice in the original sense of the word.
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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby Velifer » Fri Jul 11, 2008 12:56 pm UTC

And here I always thought "nice" meant tidy, orderly, neat.

One Latin to English word that sticks in my head is "egregious." Egregius meant [means? Do dead languages get present tenses?] excellent, and my Latin teacher would write it on A+ papers, much to the consternation of parents.
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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby Eugo » Sun Jul 13, 2008 5:09 am UTC

goofy wrote:
Eugo wrote:My favo/u/rite pet peeve here is "pathetic". It went so far astray from its classic meaning of "subject to feeling, capable of feeling, impassioned" (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pathetic) to today's meaning of just plain "miserable".


Sure, in 1737. Seems like you've been holding this grudge for quite a while.


English is not the only language full of words borrowed from Greek and Latin. It is only chock full of them... and sometimes insists on different meanings for these words, meanings they don't have in any other language. Coming into an anglophone environment I didn't have much trouble with English. I had trouble with foreign words in English - to my misfortune, I usually know how are they pronounced in the language of origin, and what is their meaning there (except ancient Greek, where I have no idea of how exactly to pronounce most of them, and where would the accent go). Most often, my trouble was a Latin word, which I can pronounce in my own language, in Latin, and maybe one more, but had absolutely no clue how to mangle it for English. So people didn't understand what I said, all Greek to them.
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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby ZLVT » Sun Jul 13, 2008 8:15 am UTC

yeah, I don't mangle words for english, I pronounce them they way a magyar would. So I say ANti-THEsis not anTIthesis
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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby TexasBelle210 » Sun Jul 13, 2008 12:04 pm UTC

I really enjoy finding words with a unique history behind them. For Example, Sabotage:

Sabotage is a term of French origin coined during the railway strike of 1910, when workers destroyed the wooden shoes, or sabots, that held rails in place, thus impeding the morning commute. An alternate definition pretends the word to be older by almost a century, the times of Industrial Revolution. It is said that powered looms could be damaged by angry or disgruntled workers throwing their wooden shoes or clogs (known in French as sabots, hence the term Sabotage) into the machinery, effectively clogging the machinery. This is often referenced as one of the first inklings of the Luddite Movement. However, this etymology is highly suspect and no wooden shoe sabotage is known to have been reported from the time of the word's origin. [1] Others contend that the word comes from the slang name for people living in rural areas who wore wooden shoes after city dwellers had begun wearing leather shoes; when employers wanted strikebreakers they would import 'sabots'/rural workers to replace the strikers. Not used to machine-driven labor the 'sabots' worked poorly and slowly. The strikers would be called back to work (with demands won) and, could win demands on the job by working like their country cousins - the sabots. Thus 'sabotage'.

--Taken from Wikipedia.org

However, what annoys me to no end is when people I am having a conversation with take the word I use as the connotative meaning and not the denotative meaning, or I take the denotative meaning when they are using the connotative.
Example:
Friend: "She is a whore."
Me: "I thought she was currently unemployed."
Friend: "What?"
Me: "I meant, I didn't realize she was accepting money in exchange for sexual activities."
Friend: "Oh. No. I just meant I didn't like her."
Jayne: What we need is a diversion.....I say, Zoe gets nekkid.
Wash: No.
Jayne: I could get naked.
Everyone: No!

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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby grammargoddess » Sun Jul 13, 2008 1:11 pm UTC

Velifer wrote:<snip> One Latin to English word that sticks in my head is "egregious." Egregius meant [means? Do dead languages get present tenses?] excellent, and my Latin teacher would write it on A+ papers, much to the consternation of parents.


Actually, egregius means "standing out from the herd" (e/ex, out from; grex gregis, herd, flock). Thus "outstanding," with the possibility of being understood to mean "way better than any of the other papers, which were all lumped around a C+." Today we still use it more or less that way, it's just that we've come to use it ONLY with words that mean "bad" -- eg, egregious error, egregiously bad -- and therefore it gets understood as, "way WORSE than any of the other papers, which were all lumped around a C+." Poor egregious, relegated to the left end of the bell curve. :(

"Explicit" has suffered a similar fate. It just means "out where you can see it." My library is FULL of explicit materials -- history books, linguistics texts, Calvin&Hobbes collections. They get right up there and say what they have to say -- not a lot of hidden meanings there, nudge nudge wink wink! But they don't exactly inundate me with pornography and Anglo-Saxonisms. They are neither explicitly sexual nor explicitly profane in nature. But "nice" (to tie in another thread!) people don't say SEXUAL out loud, so they get all implicit with "explicit."

[Disclosure: I'm a Latin teacher so I worry about these things.][And yes it would be "egregius means" because if you look it up in a Latin-English dictionary right now that's what it says. People are still READING Latin, they're just not SPEAKING it.][Much. I happen to speak it. Which just proves how much of a geek I am.]

Em

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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby the_stabbage » Sun Jul 13, 2008 3:48 pm UTC

grammargoddess wrote:Actually, egregius means "standing out from the herd" (e/ex, out from; grex gregis, herd, flock). Thus "outstanding," with the possibility of being understood to mean "way better than any of the other papers, which were all lumped around a C+." Today we still use it more or less that way, it's just that we've come to use it ONLY with words that mean "bad" -- eg, egregious error, egregiously bad -- and therefore it gets understood as, "way WORSE than any of the other papers, which were all lumped around a C+." Poor egregious, relegated to the left end of the bell curve. :(

"Explicit" has suffered a similar fate. It just means "out where you can see it." My library is FULL of explicit materials -- history books, linguistics texts, Calvin&Hobbes collections. They get right up there and say what they have to say -- not a lot of hidden meanings there, nudge nudge wink wink! But they don't exactly inundate me with pornography and Anglo-Saxonisms. They are neither explicitly sexual nor explicitly profane in nature. But "nice" (to tie in another thread!) people don't say SEXUAL out loud, so they get all implicit with "explicit."

[Disclosure: I'm a Latin teacher so I worry about these things.][And yes it would be "egregius means" because if you look it up in a Latin-English dictionary right now that's what it says. People are still READING Latin, they're just not SPEAKING it.][Much. I happen to speak it. Which just proves how much of a geek I am.]

Em


See the problem seems to be that people misuse the adverb form of a word a lot. Egregiously bad, explicitly profane, etc. This is why I try not to use "-ly" adverbs too much.

I don't use the word "egregious" too much, but I do use "explicit" and "implicit", so you have someone else out there speaking correctly with you!

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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby goofy » Mon Jul 28, 2008 7:08 pm UTC

So if we have to appeal to the etymological fallacy, it's the fault of adverbs?

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Re: Classical meaning of words

Postby Baza210 » Mon Jul 28, 2008 11:14 pm UTC

Nescient -> Nice.

From Latin ne+scire - To not know [as in Science]. So Nice originally meant Ignorant, and by association, Harmless.


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