|Saturday, December 2, 2000||
THE first formal treatise on etymology was an Indian one, as far back as the 5th century BC, composed to explain the difficult words in Rig Veda. A century later, Plato used a method similar to modern etymology in his Cratylus, a dialogue on the meaning of words. Etymology started life as a term of philosophy( etymos, meaning true, and logos, meaning word). With the introduction of Sanskrit into European scholarship, the study of etymology along scientific lines became possible. In the beginning of the 19th century, European scholars studying Sanskrit noted its resemblance in vocabulary to Latin and Greek. The comparison of vocabulary was extended to other languages and the idea of a common origin, a parent language was soon established, leading to a study of loanwords.
Loanwords are often
taken from one register of language into another. Register refers to
the variety of language used by people belonging to a particular
discipline or profession, e.g. the register of journalism, words used
usually by journalists. New words enter everyday language from
technical registers frequently. Recently, the word borborygmus, to
date a medical term, became one of the new words of everyday English.
Borborygmus comes from the Greek borborugmus, ‘to have a
rumbling in the bowels’ and refers to the rumbling sounds made by
the movement of gases in the stomach and intestine. Similarly, hallux
from the Latin hallus is the zoological term for the first
digit in the hind foot of some mammals, birds, reptiles and
amphibians. It now means the big toe.
Changes in lifestyle lead to word coinages, as in the case of cullet, meaning broken or waste glass returned for recycling. It comes from an obsolete word, no longer in use, collet, meaning glass left on the end of a blowing iron when the finished article has been removed. In the same vein, garbology from garbage and logy refers to the study of a cultural group by an examination of what it discards. We are all familiar with literati and glitterati. While literati from Latin literatus (acquainted with letters) refers to well-educated people interested in literature and glitterati from glitter is a fashionable set of people engaged in show-business or other glamorous activity, digerati is an addition to the family. Formed from digital, digerati refers to computer experts, people who have or claim to have a sophisticated expertise in the area of computers, the Internet and the World Wide Web.
Why get acquainted with new words?
British novelist Evelyn Waugh answers, "One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilisation or it will die."
Hindi neologisms often originate due to a shift in the emphasis of word meaning. Bhandara, a storehouse for utensils, came to be used for just a storehouse. Sanskar, refinement, became a consecration, a sacred rite and an impression on memory. Similarly, a sanskaran was a purification but has come to refer to any edition which may not even be revised and purified.