|Saturday, September 15, 2001||
A friend was puzzled. What was the meaning of tabula rasa? The son’s teacher used the word for the child’s mind. Tabula rasa is one of the many foreign expressions that have taken English citizenship. In Latin it literally means a scraped table. It denotes a writing surface from which previously written words have been removed, so that it is blank and can be written on again. John Locke, a philosopher, used it metaphorically to denote a clean slate. He used it as a psychological term to signify the newborn child’s mind which is blank before it receives any impressions.
Did you know that the
word wanderlust has also been borrowed from a foreign language?
Originally a German word, English borrowed it in the beginning of the
twentieth century. Due to an orthographical overlap with the English
wander and lust, the pronunciation became completely anglicised. A
further sign of the naturalisation of this citizen is the formation of
words derived from wanderlust — wanderluster and wanderlusting.
The French soiree, once taken to be a pretentious word, is back in news. Derived from soir, evening, it denotes an entertainment held in the evening, typically a small private party at someone’s home or elsewhere. Occasionally, the French soiree dansante is also used for an evening party with dancing.
Soigne came from French in the early nineteenth century and is used to mean sophisticated elegance, particularly with regard to a person’s grooming — not a hair out of place, not a speck of dust on the collar. The niceties of French gender are preserved, so that an immaculately turned-out woman is soignée. In French, soigné also means first rate, excellent.
Summum bonum has caught the fancy of political scientists lately, let’s wait and watch for the politician to latch onto it. For centuries, philosophers have differed in their identification of the summum bonum: the attainment of virtue, happiness or the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people? In the general sense, it means the most desirable goal. The Roman author Cicero coined this Latin word which means, literally, highest good. On the same Latin model are summum jus, highest law, and summum pulchrum, highest beauty.
A progressive language is identified by
the way in which it continues to prune its words. Just as a gardener
keeps the garden trim and well-maintained and a person remains soigné
by paying attention to details, the user keeps language fit and in
form by constantly defining and restricting word meanings. Atma, for
example, means body, being, nature and God in Sanskrit but Hindi holds
onto soul as the meaning of atma.