Saturday, September 20, 2003
R  O O T S

New hue

AGGRESSION started life as a military term in the seventeenth century, meaning ‘an unprovoked attack.’ The root is the Latin verb aggressare, meaning to launch an unprovoked attack. Aggressare itself developed from aggredi (to attack), made up of ad- (towards) and gradi (walk or proceed). Aggression or aggressive have invariably referred to the practice of picking a fight, whether in the playground or as a global strategy. So, when and why did aggression become a good thing, with employers desperate to recruit aggressive staff and managers winning promotions for aggressive marketing? Psychoanalysis is the discipline that took the negative away from aggression. To begin with, Freud always treated aggression as a negative trait. But his disciple Alfred Adler was unhappy with Freud’s stress on sex and sought to invert his hypotheses. Hence, Adler developed the idea of aggressionstrieb, the aggression drive. This refers to self-assertion and the desire to achieve. This positive label was soon picked up and aggression became a key term among the marketing gurus as a synonym for enterprising or energetic. In 1930, the adjective was first used in this sense in an advertisement in a Vancouver newspaper, asking for an ‘aggressive clothing salesman’.


Deny, the verb, comes from the Latin denegare made up of de- (formally) and negare (say no) giving the meaning ‘state one’s refusal to admit the truth or existence of’. This verb led to the noun denial, the action of declaring something to be untrue. Today, it has become an important item in the lexicon of the psychiatrist. And, politicians like Bill Clinton who simply denied accusations earlier are said to be ‘in denial’. This denial is a refusal to admit or acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion or to admit it into consciousness: as a defence mechanism. Freud identified denial as one of the ‘ego-defence mechanisms’ in The Psychology of Everyday Life, written at the turn of the Twentieth century.

Pall-mall was a Seventeenth century sport that involved whacking a boxwood ball towards an iron ring suspended high above the ground. John Morrish calls it ‘a kind of aerial golf’. In order to avoid injuring anyone, it was played in a long alley bordered by trees, an alley that came to be called a ‘mall’. These leafy avenues became places for the fashionable to promenade, so much so that one such tree-bordered walk in St. James Park was named The Mall. Every hill-station that was a British haunt has a mall road. Today, mall has taken on another sense: an enclosed, traffic-free shopping centre, including cinemas and eating joints. And, the participants of this ‘mall-culture’? Mall-rats or mallies (slang) who create mall-jams when they window shop!


Prabhu came to Hindi from Sanskrit. Hindi uses it as a noun for the Almighty. In Sanskrit it was used as an adjective, meaning greater than or powerful. In the Vedic texts, prabhu is used for wealthy, strong, greater or powerful. It has also been used for swami or raja. In the sense of swami, it came to be applied to surya, agni, Shiva and Vishnu. By and by, any God came to be called prabhu and once Hindi came to use it for God in general, the sense stuck. Bhagwan is derived from the Sanskrit bhagwat, which is an adjective meaning fortunate, often tagged onto the names of the gods. In Hindi, bhagwan followed the same trajectory as prabhu and became a general term for the Almighty.

This feature was published on September 13, 2003