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The Secret Troves of Etymology

Credit: Gettyimages
The Evolution of Words and Meanings

Words have their own history, which is as revealing and profound for the meaning they bring as, for example, the discovery of electricity for the rapid advancement of modern technology. Each step that language has made through the years left its footprint. A word is a bouquet of various senses and a multitude of connections with other words that eventually produces not only a notion of something but a feeling, imagery. Have you ever thought how is it possible that a given word describes its object so good, how irreplaceable it sounds? Well, it is not only that we have made a convention out of it. It is also the gradual sculpturing of meaning over and over through the centuries. Even though we are not always aware of all these transformations, we have adopted them when we learned to use language. It is a network that is erected upon a huge underground structure of nuances, contexts, and connotations, which are present although implicitly. When we use a word we give rise to a tremendous chain of meanings, that makes us perceive things in one way or another. Today, we will follow the long and captivating adventure of the word cosmos, which has always sounded so beautiful to me, and it turned out it has something to do with beauty.


Cosmos (n.)

Circa 1200, cosmos already had the meaning - "the universe, the world" (but not popular until 1848, when it was taken as the English equivalent to Humboldt's Kosmos in translations from German), from Latinized form of Greek kosmos "order, good order, orderly arrangement," a word with several main senses rooted in those notions: The verb kosmein meant generally "to dispose, prepare," but especially "to order and arrange (troops for battle), to set (an army) in array;" also "to establish (a government or regime);" "to deck, adorn, equip, dress" (especially of women). Thus kosmos had an important secondary sense of "ornaments of a woman's dress, decoration" (compare kosmokomes "dressing the hair," and cosmetic) as well as "the universe, the world."

Pythagoras is said to have been the first to apply this word to "the universe," perhaps originally meaning "the starry firmament," but it later was extended to the whole physical world, including the earth. For specific reference to "the world of people," the classical phrase was he oikoumene (ge) "the inhabited (earth)." Septuagint uses both kosmos and oikoumene. Kosmos also was used in Christian religious writing with a sense of "worldly life, this world (as opposed to the afterlife)," but the more frequent word for this was aiōn, literally "lifetime, age."

The word cosmos is often suggested especially as "the universe as an embodiment of order and harmony."

Source: Etymonline.com

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