Essay on the Origin of Language
Lesson 18 Chapter 2 Module 3
If you aren’t familiar with me and my background, I’m going to let you in on a secret today.
I love words.
I might actually be in love with words. There’s a reason all my tattoos are words and phrases. The beautiful way they twist and turn, weaving a gorgeous melody through sentence and style. It’s...my bliss.
So it would naturally follow that learning about words was my first experience with copywork. As a teenager, I kept a “word journal”; though I called it an “etymology journal”, which was not incorrect, but is totally pretentious.
Let’s just say that while I was not a picked on nerd in those days, I was far from popular.
I would keep it with me in school and at home, and when I came across words I didn’t know or really liked the look/sound of, I’d write them in the journal. Then, based on the format my high school Latin teacher taught us, I’d copy down the full origin and etymology when I got home from my hardbound Oxford dictionary*.
If you are interested in keeping an etymology journal, here’s the format I still use when researching word histories:
Definition: attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.
Origin: mid 19th century: from French prétentieux, from prétention from Medieval Latin pretentionem (nominative pretentio) from noun of action from past participle stem of Latin praetendo (From prae- (“before, in front of”) + tendō (“stretch, strive for”))
My interpretation: [The truest sense of the word] means something that is put before or in front of someone/something and is stretching or striving to be; related to the word pretend for a reason
When you start studying language like this, and really taking the time to really understand what words really mean, you begin to develop a mastery for this tool in your writing arsenal.
Which is why today’s lesson is on the very origins of language, from an 18th century essay by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He’s not as known these days, but if you are serious about reading some of the earliest essays and thoughts on modern language and literature, he’s your go to guy.
I’ve included the essay section that immediately precedes this one in the Extended version, which I’ve linked under the embedded Lesson window.
*Bonus - you can totally find this stuff on the internet these days if you don’t have a dictionary on hand. Links to the Online Etymology Dictionary and Wiktionary included in Further Reading below