Catchup #6: The Oft Forgotten Nature of Language

Something that I’ve been noticing for a good while now is how much importance Pagans and Heathens place on the nature of a word. Witch, Wiccan, Pagan, Heathen… There are so many words that the community uses that the commitment to using the word in its truest form is really very commendable and I personally also try to do the same.

That said, I think that there is a strong element that many Pagans and Heathens forget about and that element is related to the nature of the English language itself.

Modern English is only the latest in a series of Englishes. Modern, Middle, Old, Saxon. The nature of English has changed several times, within those types of English, as well as across each linguistic evolution. This has virtually always caused the nature of words that continue across from one evolution of English to the next to change. A pertinent example of this is the word Warlock; in its Old English form it means oath-breaker, however the modern incarnation of the word has taken on a different meaning, usually male-witch or one that I’ve heard recently is that it is a description of a certain level of necromantic initiate in some Northern/Norse traditions (I’ve not researched into that one myself, so I can’t verify it one way or another just yet).

Another element of English language, especially Modern English, is the appropriation of the pure forms of words from other languages. For example, Modern English speakers make regular use of words like schadenfreude, sauté, villa, karaoke. Each of these has come from a different language, and unlike other languages, English as taken these words and continued to use them in their original format. Albeit, English speakers don’t typically PRONOUNCE the words correctly, however their usage is almost always true to the word being used.

As such, I often wonder how much stock should really be put in the English understanding of certain words, especially in Modern English. In my own life, I often cross reference a word that I am unsure of in English, with other languages. Other languages often, in my experience, provide a greater understanding of the nature of the word in English and adds to how I think of that word and any words that stem from it.

Give it a try the next time you come across a word like Warlock or Sorcerer or something similar. Find the equivalent word in other languages and look at what THOSE words mean, then see how your understanding of the word in English changes or grows.


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