Thursday, April 4, 2019

Language of Confusion: Can I Get A Witness? Part IV

This should be the last installment of this series about words descended from the Proto Indo European weid- (to see). And It. Gets. WEIRD.

First, idea showed up in the late fourteenth century meaning an archetype or a “concept of a thing in the mind of God”. It didn’t actually mean what we’d call an idea until the early seventeenth century. It comes from the classical Latin idea, which could mean idea or ideal, which makes sense since that’s where ideal comes from too. Latin (unsurprisingly) took the word from Greek, where it came from the ideal in Platonic philosophy, which is so complicated and I’m not getting into it. Basically it means an archetype from which imperfect copies come from. Anyway, the Greek idea comes from idein, to see, which is from the Proto Indo European wid-es-ya-, which is from weid-. I guess an ideal is something you see in your mind. There are a lot of other words related to idea. The prefix ideo-, of course, which came from the Greek version of the word.

And the word idol also comes from weid-, although down a very different path than its homophone there. It showed up in the mid thirteenth century from the Old French idole, idol, and classical Latin idolum, which could mean idol or image or even profit. It’s also from a Greek word, eidolon, also meaning idol, which could be either a mental image or a physical one. It’s from another Greek word, eidos, meaning kind or type or likeness. That’s actually where we get the suffix -oid from []. So, like, in humanoid, the -oid there means like/think like a—it’s a thing like a human. And that’s from eidos, which is from the Proto Indo European weid-es, from weid-. To see. I guess you can see how something is like something else?

Here’s a word you won’t be expecting: envy. It showed up in the late thirteenth century from the Old French envie and classical Latin invidia, envy. Also a homophone for a tech company that makes pretty good graphics processors. Anyway, invidia is from the verb invidere, to envy, a mix of the prefix in- (upon and videre, which has been mentioned in previous installments as meaning to see and from weid-. You see something, you’re envious of it???

Making even less sense is the word prudent. Yes, it’s really one of these words. It showed up in the late fourteenth century from the Old French prudent, with knowledge or deliberate, and classical Latin prudentem, wise or knowing. It’s actually a contraction of providens, seeing, from the verb providere, to provide for or prepare or look ahead. The pro- means ahead [], and the videre, to see. To see ahead is to be prudent. And yes, that’s where prudence comes from, as well as providence. All that because Latin decided to contract a word that wasn’t even longer than the contraction.

I don’t even know what’s real anymore.



  1. That took a weird turn of words, didn't it?

  2. I would not have expected those words to be related. But I do remember the Platonic ideals. College philosophy... Tedious class.


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