Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Being nice

On being a nice foolish, wanton simpleton

Origin of “nice” (from Merriam-Webster) Middle English, foolish, wanton, from Anglo-French, silly, simple, from Latin nescius ignorant, from nescire not to know. First Known Use: 14th century.

Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. By an extension, the term "the etymology of [a word]" means the origin of the particular word. Semantic change (also semantic shift, semantic progression or semantic drift) is the evolution of word usage — usually to the point that the modern meaning is radically different from the original usage. (from Wikipedia)

I attended a live-in post secondary educational facility for more or less (mostly less) a year after high school. It was a rather closed little community and the kids there had mysteriously adapted a language of modified english, german, and low german which no one on the outside world could decipher. It was a school where we studied one of the biggy religions of our time. Being nice, the major realization I came to from this fundamentally principled institute of learning was our inability to grasp the meaning not just of words, but the concepts of people who lived two thousand years ago. If the kids in this school could accomplish a radical semantic shift in words and phrases in just a couple of years how could a prosecuted group of very early followers of Jesus, who obviously would spend much time together, not develop a double speak if for no other reason than for their own protection.

Barbara Thiering has visualized a world in which early followers used a pesher, a system of speaking and writing where one word directly stood for another word, so they could tell a parable with one meaning to an audience but only those who understood the pesher would know the real meaning. The academic world has rejected her theory as unproven and for me, the simpleton, it would be an immense undertaking to remember the meanings of all those words. However, she opens up a remarkable vision of Christianities earliest days and there is a grain of truth in everything.

When the wanton me pictures a parable I always have this feeling that there's something more to this story than I'll ever comprehend. Something these early followers were aware of kept them together. What came of it later is history, and as Napoleon said “History is a set of lies agreed upon.”

At that post secondary institute we would attend various churches. We could go anywhere as long as we went. Foolish me would sometimes partake of an older order Mennonite low german church service. When they prayed there was dead silent concentration and you could feel the static so strong your hair would tingle. This universe has forces we haven't begun to comprehend. Words try to describe them. Parables possibly do it best. Semantic progression changes the meanings of the words, but the forces out there remain the same. May the force be with you. Shalom.
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