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employed to enjoin silence. From this interjection, and from no root, are derived in German the adjective husch, meaning quick, and the substantive Husch, quickness, also a blow, a box on the ear. Thus the lines in Shakespeare's Hamlet,
And we have done but greenly
In hugger mugger to inter him, are translated in German by
Und thöricht war's von uns, so unter'm Husch
Ihn zu bestatten. We have besides a German feminine substantive, Die Husche, which means a shower of rain, and two verbs, huschen, to move quickly, and huscheln, to scamp one's work. In English to hush has taken the exclusive meaning of to enjoin silence, to quiet.
This would be an illustration of the Pooh-pooh theory.
The Bow-wow theory can claim a number of words, the best known being cuckoo, in Greek KókKVĚ, in Latin cuculus, in Sanskrit kokila. In Greek we have also a verb KOKKÚ CELV, redupl. perfect, KEKÓKKUKA, to cry cuckoo.
The Yo-heho theory is really a subdivision of the Pooh-pooh theory, but it may be illustrated by bang! as an interjection that accompanies a blow; to bang, to beat violently, and banged hair, which has lately been much admired.
It would be a most interesting subject to collect all the words which, whether in English or in German, or in Latin, Greek and Sanskrit, are formed direct from interjectional elements. And it would teach us better than anything else that, after we have claimed all that can rightly be claimed for this amorphous stratum of human speech, we have only taken the mere outworks, while the real fortress of language has not been touched.
Roots. That fortress could not be taken by storm, but only by a regular siege ;-it will not surrender to a priori arguments, but only to a posteriori analysis. This analysis was carried out by the founders of Comparative Philology, by Bopp, Grimm, Pott and others; but it had been attempted more than two thousand years ago by Sanskrit grammarians. They had taken Sanskrit, one of the richest and most primitive of Aryan languages, and by submitting every word of it to a careful analysis, that is to say, by separating all that could be separated and proved to be merely formal, they had succeeded in discovering certain elements which would yield to no further analysis, and which they therefore treated as the ultimate facts of language, and designated as roots.
The number of roots admitted by these ancient Sanskrit grammarians was far too large however, We have now reduced their number to about 800,I believe they will be reduced still further,—and with these we undertake to account for all the really important words which occur in Sanskrit literature. In more modern languages many clusters of words derived from one root have become extinct, and their place is taken by secondary and tertiary derivatives of other roots, so that for the English Dictionary (now being published at Oxford), which is said to comprehend 250,000 words, no more than about 460 roots 1
1 Science of Thought, p. 210.
are required to account for all that has been said by Shakespeare, Milton, and Byron. But more than that: the number of independent concepts conveyed by these 800 Sanskrit roots, is not 800, or anything like it, but has been reduced to the small number of 121. With these 121 radical concepts every thought that has ever passed through a human brain can be, and has been expressed. This would have sounded like a wild dream to Plato and Aristotle, nay even to Locke and Kant, and yet it is a fact that can no more be questioned than the fact that the whole kaleidoscope of nature—all that was ever seen in this myriad-shaped world of ours—is made up of about sixty elementary substances.
With regard to the meaning of the 800 roots of Sanskrit, we find that most of them express acts, such as striking, digging, rubbing, crushing, pounding, cutting, gathering, mixing, sprinkling, burning,—acts in fact which represent some of the primitive occupations of man, but which by means of generalisation, specialisation, and metaphor have been made to express
the most abstract ideas of our advanced society. A root meaning to strike supplied names for a good stroke of business and for striking remarks. To dig came to mean to search for and to inquire. To rub was used for rubbing down, softening, appeasing; to burn came to mean to love, and also to be ashamed; and to gather did excellent service for expressing in primitive logic what we observation of facts, the connection of major and minor, or even syllogism.
And now we must gather up the threads of our own argument.
We saw that real thought was impossible without words. We have now seen that all words are made of roots, and that these roots expressed originally primitive co-operative acts, such as would be performed by men in the earliest stages of their social life.
Words derived from conceptual roots.
But this is not all. Let us remember that what shook for the first time the faith of those who thought they could explain all the words of our language as imitations of natural sounds was the strange fact that in the names of animals there was no trace whatever of these sounds. After the cuckoo had been claimed as a case in point, as the great trophy or totem of the Bow-wow theory, everything else collapsed. In the names for dog there was no trace of bow-wow, in the names for horse no trace of neighing, in the names for donkey no trace of braying, in the names for cow no trace of mooing. On the contrary, it was found that every
word which was derived from a root expressed a general concept. The name for horse, the Latin equus, the Sanskrit asva, was derived from a root meaning to be sharp or quick; hence it became clear that the horse had been conceived and named
From the same root came words for stone, spear, needle, point, sharpness of sight, quickness of thought, to the very 'cuteness of the New World.
The serpent was called from a root meaning to creep along, and another name of it, the Sk. ahi, the Greek čxus, came from a root meaning to throttle.
Sun, Gothic sunna, is derived from a root su, to bring forth; son, Gothic sunus, comes from the same
as a runner or racer.
root, in a passive sense, and meant originally the begotten, filius.
Hand comes from a root which exists in Gothic as hinthan, to seize.
Eye, Gothic augo, Lat. oc-ulus, Sk. aksha, all come from the same root, which meant originally to point, to pierce. Another name for eye in Sanskrit is netram, which means the leader, from nî, to lead.
So we could go on for ever tracing back every word to its root and its radical concept. I do not mean to say that we succeed in every case. There are still many words which have not been brought to disclose their secret history, and there is still plenty of work to do for critical etymologists.
There are many words which require no knowledge of Sanskrit at all for their etymological explanation, and which we use constantly without thinking of their etymological meaning. Thus a settle is clearly what we sit on, and so also, though less directly, a saddle ; a road is what we ride on; a stand what we stand on; a bier is what bears us, a burden what we bear ourselves; a shaft is what is shaved or planed ; a draft what is drawn, a drift what is driven, a rift what is riven. A thrill of joy, or a thrilling story, both come from to thrill, to pierce, to perforate : but to bore also, whatever its historical origin may have been, is now used to express that slow rotatory worrying talk which is apt to make us gnash our teeth.
Well then, you may take it as an established fact that, with the exception of some onomatopoetic survivals, our words are in the main conceptual; that
1 On the introduction of the word bore, see Academy, Jan. 5, 12, 19, 1889.