The evolution of a word

Today I wrote a comment on a blog that was just the word “Gorgeous!”.

And I realized as a typed it that it has the word ‘gorge’ in it.  How odd.  They seems such distinct meanings.  So I looked it up.

According to Eymonline:

gorgeous (adj.)
c. 1500, “splendid, showy, sumptuously adorned” (of clothing), from Middle French gorgias “elegant, fashionable,” of unknown origin; perhaps a special use of gorgias “necklace” (and thus “fond of or resembling jewelry”), from Old French gorge “throat,” also “something adorning the throat” (see gorge (n.)). A connection to the Greek proper name Gorgias (supposedly in reference to a notorious sophist) also has been proposed.

Gorge is from the word throat in old french.  Which I can also feel the relationship to our present use of the word related to canyon in English, even if it is quite remote.

Which is the thing – so often one can FEEL the roots of a word.  It’s tenuous relationship to the old word is so thready and knotted but it somehow got transmitted in meaning enough that I hear the etymology and can say  – OK.  Yeah.  I can get that.

Words evolve.  Sometimes very quickly and bizarrely.  Imagine how oddly someone from the 15th century would feel about how we use the word “cool” today.  We still hold onto the meaning they understand but it’s far more common use has no real relationship they can understand to the word.

cool (adj.)
Applied since 1728 to large sums of money to give emphasis to amount. Meaning “calmly audacious” is from 1825. Slang use for “fashionable” is 1933, originally African-American vernacular; modern use as a general term of approval is from late 1940s, probably from bop talk and originally in reference to a style of jazz; said to have been popularized in jazz circles by tenor saxophonist Lester Young.

All the slang meanings have intertwined in my mind.  Each of them bringing a nuance to the various ways I use the word cool.  In fact I can think of another meaning that is not mentioned here.  It is often used as an agreement word.  I can also feel how the slang meanings are still related to its traditional meaning of chilly.  But those complexity of meanings are very hard to express,  except by saying the word.  All of its complexity is so neatly wrapped in one small word.

And now it’s being morphed again into kewl!

Language pedants often criticize people for their “wrong” use of words.  But this is just the nature of language.  It gets used and it evolves in it’s use until over time it’s a whole new meaning.   This is why humans, who all evolved from one group are now using thousands of different languages.  Because language evolves, just like humans, but much faster.   A thousand years ago people spoke English.  But we probably wouldn’t understand much of it.

 

 

 

 

 

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