Words

by Gregg Hake on April 18, 2014

“In a language like ours, so many words of which are derived from other languages, there are few modes of instruction more useful or more amusing than that of accustoming young people to seek the etymology or primary meaning of the words they use. There are cases in which more knowledge, of more value, may be conveyed by the history of a word than by the history of a campaign.” - Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Aids to Reflection, Aphor. 12.

To my mind, words are man’s crowning achievement. They are more enduring than his monuments, institutions or buildings. In fact, they serve as building blocks for every edifice he has ever created; they are integral to his work on earth.

Languages are living, evolving creatures with a past, present and future. They clothe the spirit of the times, while providing a nexus between the temporal and the eternal. Each and every word we have the privilege of using was conceived and brought into the world by man.

I’ve had a long-standing fascination with words, a love affair which stretches into my earliest memories. When I was in school I underlined every word I looked up in my trusty dictionary (the old-fashioned paper kind), and by the end of my secondary schooling the well-worn pages of my dictionary gave evidence of my passionate inquiry into the heart of a great many words.

Every word has a primary meaning. Examination of the primary meaning, in the sense of its earliest definition, is like looking into the DNA of a cell. You can learn a lot from it. It tells a rich and fascinating story and gives clues about the zeitgeist of its youth. Its structure, place of birth, original language, and so on paint a picture, which, like a picture, is worth a thousand words.

Every word also has a primary meaning in the sense of its principal meaning. This meaning changes over time. Words, and the memes packed into them, tend to evolve. Words reflect and advance cultural developments. They symbolize man’s consciousness, which makes a review of their shifting meanings a study of man himself.

The next time you look up a word, take a minute to explore its etymology. But take care to make it more than a mental exercise. Listen to its story. Place your hand upon its heart. Feel its pulse. It is a living, evolving creature with more to share than you might imagine.

 

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Intent

by Gregg Hake on April 17, 2014

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ―Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Deliberately cultivating the intent to understand rather than to reply is the key to effective listening. This is an appealing thought, but what does it mean, really? And how do you go about developing this uncommon ability.

One difference between the two is that the intent to reply only leads you to hear what you want to hear, while the intent to understand allows you to hear what you need to hear. A second difference is that you are much less likely to interrupt or talk over another if you are truly listening with the intent to understand. When you listen with the intent to reply you’ll find it hard to hear anything beyond the point at which you agree or disagree, as the case may be.

But rather than bore you with clichés about the importance of listening, I would like to suggest to you that the ability to listen with the intent to understand is more about your relationship with truth than it is with your fellow human beings. The truth of the matter, of any matter, transcends human opinion. As such, when you listen to others, you should be more concerned with how what they are saying squares with truth than you are with how what they are saying jibes with your speculative theories on truth, life or love.

All human conflict and misery springs from the failure to orient in love and the subsequent inability to find agreement in truth. The world we have is more the product of retorts and ripostes – the unfortunate by-products of the intent to reply – than it is of the intent to understand. Change this one point of misaligned intent in yourself…and you will change the world.

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Representation

04.16.2014

“Now, as words affect, not by any original power, but by representation, it might be supposed that their influence over the passions should be but light; yet it is quite otherwise; for we find by experience that eloquence and poetry are as capable, nay indeed much more capable, of making deep and lively impressions than […]

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Cast forth

04.15.2014

“Cast forth thy act, thy word, into the ever-living, ever-working universe: it is a seed-grain that cannot die; unnoticed to-day, it will be found flourishing as a banyan grove, perhaps, alas, as a hemlock forest, after a thousand years.” – Thomas Carlyle Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay, comp. by S. Austin Allibone. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott […]

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Hook, Line and Sinker

04.14.2014

“Men create oppositions which are not, and put them into new terms so fixed, as whereas the meaning ought to govern the term, the term in effect governeth the meaning.” – Francis Bacon, Essay III., Of Unity in Religion. The moment I read this I thought it the perfect description of what has happened with respect […]

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Circumstances

04.13.2014

“In all our reasonings concerning men we must lay it down as a maxim that the greater part are moulded by circumstances.” - Robert Hall: Apology for the Freedom of the Press, Sect. V. If the greater part of men are moulded by their circumstances, then the lesser part are not. But if a man is not moulded […]

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