Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Etymology of 'Idiot'

If there is one sure fire way to spot an idiot, it would have to be the way some people – usually conspiracy theorists (ironically also referred to as ‘truthers’) – think they have figured out what some words actually mean or how words are sometimes used against them. 

For example, I recall one particularly idiotic truther tried entertaining his disturbingly large audience of 200 people with the revelation that the word ‘youngster’ is really referring to youngsters as being ‘young stars’ as human beings are in fact beings of light. Nevermind that the etymology (the study of the origin of words and their historical usage) of the word ‘young’ stems from the Old English word ‘geong’ and Middle English word ‘yong’ which both refer to someone as being from the early part of life or as possessing the looks of someone who looks as though they belong to the early part of life. The suffix ‘-ster’ is also derived from Old and Middle English (and Proto-Germanic) and at when added to a word refers to that thing as belonging to a specified group or as doing something specific. Unsurprisingly, the word for a youngster is ‘enfant’ in French and ‘junge’ or ‘kind’ in German, words that have ZERO to do with this truther’s claims about young people being the children of stars. Certainly one can just make up out of thin air their own etymologies, but that doesn’t mean their imaginings are true. [The same person completely ignored some key definitions of ‘defense’ and intentionally narrowed the meaning of the word to make a rather poor argument in their favor regarding imperialism.]

Then there’s this ridiculous conspiracy theorist meme, depicted on the left. In actuality, the word ‘govern-’ as it relates here is derived from the Old French word ‘governor’ which is itself derived from the Latin ‘gubernare,’ itself derived from the Greek word ‘kybernan’ meaning to pilot or captain a ship. Meanwhile, ‘-ment’ was imported from the French and Latin ‘-mentum’ and means the result of an action. As one clever commenter wrote on English.stockexchange.com “If ‘-ment’ always referred to the mind, then a replacement would be a brain transplant, punishment would be a headache, and an attachment would be a neural implant.

More recently, another truther tried to explain in her Youtube video that when police ask you if you understand what they are saying, answering ‘yes’ means you are giving them permission to stand over you. Nevermind that the word comes from the Old English usage of ‘understandan’ which simply means to perceive the meaning of words or ideas spoken to you. That’s it. If what this conspiracy theorist is saying is true, then you simply have to tell police you don’t understand them when they ask you if you understand and it’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card!

Conspiracy theorists / truthers (‘-ists’ and ‘-ers’ is used in a very similar fashion to ‘-ster’, btw) claim to want to make you think, but when you do and actually do research the things the talk about and come to a ‘real’ conclusion, they’ll have none of it. They’ll throw every ad hominin attack or straw man fallacy in the book at you. Conspiracy theorists are alarmingly delusional and should be hospitalized before they hurt someone or themselves. Or, we can invite them to leave and start their own country. I know, I know, they’re too lazy for all that. A few idiots ruin it for the rest of us.

[‘Idiot,’ by the way, comes from the Old French and Latin word ‘idiota’ meaning ‘ignorant person.’ Unsurprisingly, the usage of idiot’ has risen exponentially with the advent of the internet.]

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