Saturday, August 17, 2002

Current trends

AGENDA seems to be on everybody’s mind these days. Earlier, an agenda used to be a list of things — set down on an agenda paper — to be discussed at a formal meeting. Today, it is a list of grievances, demands or plans close to the heart of a particular individual or group. There are moral agendas, social agendas, political agendas and even emotional agendas. The simple ‘ulterior motive’ is today the sinister ‘hidden agenda’; one can say one thing and mean another, even if one is not a politician! Etymologically, agenda is already plural, derived from the Latin agendum, meaning that which is to be done. Originally, the agenda were the practical demands of a Christian life, as opposed to the credenda, the beliefs.

Branded clothes, accessories, furniture and gadgets have become quite the vogue. Literally speaking, this means ‘clothes with burn marks on them’. For, brand comes from the German brand, to burn. It dates back to the time when cattle were branded with a hot iron for quick identification. In olden times, slaves and criminals were branded as well. History records the branding of felons in 1822 with an ‘F’ burnt on the cheek. It was in the year 1827 that a trader branded his name on the boxes of his product for the first time. Today, brand has come to apply not to the mark but to the product itself, as in ‘my brand of toothpaste’.

August 3, 2002
Grandparent languages
July 20, 2002
Thank you computers!
July 6, 2002
Computer-created words
June 22, 2002
Fiddling with words, again!
June 8, 2002
Fiddling with words
May 25, 2002
May 11, 2002
Words in twos
April 27, 2002
April 13, 2002
March 16, 2002
And the romance goes on...
March 2, 2002

In the nineteenth century, surveyors used a benchmark as a height reference for walls and mountains. A horizontal slot would have an arrowhead meeting it from beneath. A bar would be inserted into the point where arrow and line met and this would become the bench on which the levelling would be based. Over the years, any fixed point of reference became a benchmark. Today a benchmark is a standard of excellence, whether for people or equipment, in sports or in business. And, as usual, related words like benchmark test have sprung up.

Everyone talks about a holistic approach to life, but what exactly does holistic mean? Jan Smuts, a barrister, soldier, statesman and philosopher, coined the word holism in 1926. He coined it to designate the tendency in nature to produce organised wholes from the ordered grouping of units; wholes like organisms. Smuts based his word on the Greek holos, meaning whole or holism was picked up by the world of philosophy quickly. In the 1960s, medicine latched onto it, using it for a therapeutic approach that attempts to treat the whole person, rather than just the disease. These days, people can adopt holistic management, visit a holistic priest, take holistic financial advice or, shop holistically, i.e., ponder over the fate of mother earth before buying anything ecologically inappropriate!


The etymological similarity between languages can be quite a surprise sometimes. The Hindi word anushasan is discipline in English and means the same in Hindi too. But in Sanskrit, the language of its origin, anushasan refers to the system of a subject or education. Now, discipline comes from the Latin discipulus, meaning education. How could the same etymological journey be made by two words in different languages? Perhaps, the clue lies in the human mind. Since a guru imparts education and also teaches the rules of behaviour, hence, the orderly side of discipline.