It was on a comfortable, quiet, typically-dull and uninspired summer evening in a Pacific coastal town of northern California, some four years ago, when, for lack of anything better to do, any bored but intelligent person could only decide, after a lazy supper at some cafe or other, to go to the local “book-signing” at one of the bookstores. A well-known American author and cultural historian, Theodore Roszak – who wrote The Making of a Counter-Culture (1969); Where the Wasteland Ends – Politics and Transcendence in Post-Industrial Society (1972); From Satori to Silicon Valley – San Francisco and the American Counter Culture (1986); and other books – was going to sign copies of his most recent book: Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind (1994; $15). Typically at such a “book-signing”, an authors will speak for some half an hour or so, giving a generally tempting taste of their latest books’ ideas, and more or less subtly suggesting people buy it. Being rather popular with the “alternative community” (a.k.a. leftists and hippies, “new agers”, “spiritual seekers”, etc.), this author had a rather large number of people attending the “free-of-charge” book-signing.
Roszak presented his ideas of a new “ecology of the person” and environment (eco-psychology), and was basically restating ideas – to those paying close attention – for which he had become well-known in America since the late 1960’s. Roszak, a cultural historian by profession, essentially speaks and analyzes modern society and civilization from within the modern current of a revived Oriental version of the idea of a “perennial philosophy” (His version being a mixture of Hinduism and Sufism à la René Guénon.) It is well worth mentioning that this version of the idea of a “perennial philosophy” is characteristically trans-historical, trans-cultural and transcendental – it does not recognize the incarnate history of mankind and earthly life as a progressive, or developing, story, as is the case with the Occidental version of the “perennial philosophy” (about which future American Reflections will write) and indicated in Goethe’s profound words in Faust:
The traces of my earthly life are indestructible throughout the aeons of time – wherein the experiences of life on earth are seen as essential lessons even to the essential spirit of man, rather than as mere epiphenomenal illusions (e.g. maya).
The author had finished his talk, and (as it is said in the USA) the floor was opened to questions. As a serious reader of Roszak’s works for years, I was closely attentive to his presentation. Recognizing as I did that he is essentially a neo-Orientalist (suggesting it as a new spiritual source for the troubled Occident), I asked a Western scholar’s question, about the traditional tripartite distinction – “evident in St. Paul” – of soma/body, psyche/soul (psychology) and pneuma/spirit (pneumatology), and about the Western problem and presence of evil in mankind’s greater history, in relationship to his idea of a “spiritually-inspired” new, wholesome “ecopsychology”. While I was not satisfied with his expected reply – he is an Orientalist, I am an Occidentalist – what occurred in the audience thenafter, is the interesting point of this story.
This was “liberal”, “progressive”, “egalitarian”, “leftist-populist”, “natural/organic”, “feminist”, “new age”, “spiritual”, “alternative culture”, “politically correct” California in which I was asking my studied question. And as soon as he had finished unsatisfactorily answering it, a middle-aged woman attacked me verbally for having used the “sexist” (and therefore implicitly “patriarchal”, illiberal, “politically incorrect”, “oppressive”) word “mankind” in my question. Looking at me with indignant outrage, she said that we needed to stop talking about “mankind”, and talk of “peoplekind”, “personkind”, “humankind”, or something equally liberal and enlightened. (I can’t recall her personally preferred version.) To use the word “mankind”, she exclaimed angrily, discriminated against women; and the word, she implied, should not be used at all – as if it was, and is, some holdover from oppressive, male-dominated times. This woman looked at me – though I was by my question, and appearance, apparently “spiritual” – as if I were some sort of unenlightened, recalcitrant, male chauvinist from the ‘darker decades’ of California’s (very short) history. Everyone in the crowded audience seemed to agree with her very popular, politically-correct, liberal, Californian critique of my unenlightened use of this “patriarchal” word.
Well, since I happened to have learned that in the most fundamental way she was wrong, I – uncharacteristically – insisted on speaking again, “since I have been verbally attacked”. I explained aloud to her and the crowd that the word “man” derives from the Indo-European root mens- to think, and that while the word “man” also came in history to be applied to males, the actual meaning had to do “. . . with the thinking creature, and has,” as I looked at her, “in deeper fact nothing to do with sex, male or female”.
This atypical, illiberal, heated public exchange, on that balmy Californian evening, was followed by a few more predictable Californian questions. The store manager then said that people were free to buy the author’s book, and have him autograph it. The audience clapped (thanking the author for his presentation), and then began to go their separate ways. I can still remember the angered resentment, with which, as she got up to leave, this woman took her last distrustful glance at me. A friend of mine, who had witnessed the scene, and who knew I was a serious scholar of history, walked up to me, and said: “It was good that you knew about the word ‘man’”. “Yes,” I said simply, in some, still nervous modesty. Another acquaintance, a somewhat misanthropic well-educated woman, said “congratulations”, and something about how ignorant most people are.
This was one single, small episode in California, but it was and is absolutely typical of cultural and intellectual conditions there, and in much of the popular, public life in the world-influential USA. Neither that woman who verbally accosted me (for my benighted mention of the word “mankind”), nor probably 99% of the other people at the book-signing (who agreed with her), had taken the trouble, or had the clarity, in their spiritual liberalism, to seriously even know or study what they were arguing about. It was popular ignorance that was dissatisfied (and indignant) in this typical, “liberal, progressive” crowd in California. This rejection of the word and idea “man” is so common in the West – in spite of being ignorant (in- not + gno- to know), shallow and wrong (as well as being easily correctable via any average dictionary!) – that I decided in my public lectures there to make a hopeless effort towards dispelling this vast popular ignorance, by studying, and then defending the word “man” and related social words (in the battle between passionate, popular ignorance, and knowledge and truth). If that woman had just been a bit more thoughtful (in deeper fact more a part of mankind), then she would not perhaps have made such a fervent, popularly-acclaimed mistake. She, and 99% of the others in the audience, on that typically-casual, even lazy summer evening, in California, were wrong.
And there is another, related example...
It is also often very popular, at the close of the 20th century, in such liberal, “politically-correct” circles of California, the USA, and the West, to critique and condemn the evil, oppressive sex: men, for all of the injustices, disharmony, evil, oppression, wars, etc., of human history. “Feminists” in the West (especially lesbians and “radical feminists” – who write and publish many revisionist articles and books on history, society, etc., which have definitively nothing kind to say about men in any way or context) – have taken to rejecting the word “history” as obviously chauvinist, sexist, and oppressive of women (and their identity and dignity in “history”), because the word has the semblance of being a combination of “his” and “story”. And so they have recently created a new “women’s-liberation” word: “herstory”, which is based on a complete ignorance of the word “history”, and is thereby a mental miscreant. Some of such “womyn” will not even use the word “man” or “history” in their writing or lecturing for “womyns” and peoples’ liberation”.
So I decided, after reading an article in the local, weekly, county newspaper which mentioned “herstory” and “herstorians”, to write a “letter to the editor” in response. I did so, and the actual, “disagreeable truth” of the word “history”, was printed in the next issue, for all of the local, radical “feminists” (they are often in actual fact very masculine and mean) and their often naive followers to read, realize – and then probably ignore. I did it under a feminine pseudonym Clare Varheit, which, when properly pronounced in English, means “clear truth” in the German language.
Similarly to the word “man”, the word history – which these influential “herstorians” had not apparently taken the trouble to research historically – has a much more profound meaning and story, than their typical and popular ignorance and ideology would allow them any clear or wise ideas about. The fact that such people (some of whom are accredited university “Women’s Studies” professors and are well-known authors in America, and whose ideas are sometimes spread, as if they were deep and wise, to the nations of the world) are in fact semi-literate and semi-educated, pseudo-scholars – and treat truth as if it should be subjected to their visions of equality – does not at all stop them from “understanding” society and world, and publishing their thousands of influential articles and books, founding journals, university departments; etc., etc., in their “scholarly” efforts to liberate society of its evils.
The word “history” has an etymology, and family, equally deep and noble (from gno- to know) to that of “man”; and I publish here my contributions to a serious understanding and life of both words below.
HUMAN – via Old French humain from Latin humanus, related to humus- ‘earth’, it was originally used for ‘people’ in the sense of ‘earthly beings’ (in contrast to the immortal gods); from Indo-European dhghem: earth. (See notes below – Pokorny: ghdhen p. 414)
Words derived or related to the root dhghem:
guma > bridegroom (Old English)
khthon > chthonic (Greek)
humble > humiliate, humility (Latin)
human, humane (Latin)
земля, земство (Russian)
PERSON – from Latin persona- human being, individual; originally, character in a drama, actor; mask worn by an actor, possibly from Etruscan phersu- mask. Related words: parson, personality, personnel.
PEOPLE – from Latin populus- ‘people’, possibly of Etruscan origin. Related words: public, populace, popular, pueblo.
MALE – from Latin masculine from masculus- from mas- male person/animal; of uncertain origin. Related words: macho, masculine, emasculate.
MASCULINE – from masculus, from mas- male person/animal, of uncertain origin.
FEMALE – via Old French femelle, femele, from Latin femella- young girl, femina- woman.
The symmetry between female and male is a comparatively recent development. Female started as Latin femella, a diminutive form of femina (whence English feminine). This in turn was a derivative of Latin felare- suck, and so etymologically signified ‘person from whom milk is sucked’, coming ultimately from the Indo-European base dhei-, which also produced filia- ‘daughter’ and filius- ‘son’ (source of English filial). As early as the end of the fourteenth century femele began to change to female in association with distinctly derived male. (See Ayto below, p. 224)
FEMININE – from Latin femina- woman; base Latin felare- to suck, suckle.
WIFE – from Old English wif- woman, wife; Proto-Germanic wiban- woman; of uncertain origin. (German Weib.)
Wife originally meant simply ‘woman’, but the semantic restriction to ‘married woman’ began in the Old English period, and became more and more established as the centuries passed. (Ayto, p. 574)
VIR – virile. (See MAN below.)
The Anglo-Saxons used wer- ‘man’ (as in werewolf) for ‘husband’, and not until the late 13th century was the word husband drafted in for ‘male spouse’. This had originally meant ‘master of a household’, and was borrowed from Old Norse hus-bondi, a compound formed from hus- ‘house’ and bondi. Bondi in turn was a contraction of an earlier boandi, buandi- ‘dweller’, a noun use of the present participle of boa, bua- ‘dwell. ‘ This was derived from the Germanic base bu- ‘dwell’, which also produced English be, boor, booth, bound- ‘intending to go,’ bower, build, burly, byelaw, byre, and the -bour of neighbour. The ancient link between ‘dwelling in a place’ and ‘farming the land’ comes out in husbandman [14th century] and husbandry, reflecting a now obsolete sense of husband, ‘farm-er’. The abbreviated form hubby dates from the 17th century. (Ayto, p. 290)
LADY – from Old English hlafdie- mistress of the household, wife of a lord; literally, one who kneads a loaf; a compound of hlaf- bread, loaf + dige related to daege- breadmaker, from dag- dough. Related words: dairy, dough, loaf, lord.
LORD – from Old English hlaford- master of the household; literally, one who guards a loaf or loaves: a compound of hlaf- bread, loaf + weard- keeper, guardian.
HE/SHE; HIS/HER –
He comes ultimately from a prehistoric Indo-European base ki-, ko-, which denoted in general terms ‘this, here’ (as opposed to ‘that, there’) and occurs in a number of modern English demonstrative pronouns and adverbs, such as here and hence. The most direct use of the demonstrative is for the ‘person or thing referred to,’ and so ki- has come down directly via Germanic khi- as the third person singular pronoun he (of which him, his, she, her, and it are all derivatives). (Ayto, p. 277)
WOMAN – from Old English wif(e) + man.
A woman is etymologically a ‘wife-man’, i.e., a ‘female person’. The word was compounded in the Old English period from wif- ‘woman’ (source of English wife) and man- ‘person’ (source of modern English man). Already by the end of the Old English period the f of wifman was disappearing, giving wiman, and the influence of the w sound started to turn this into woman in the 13th century. Woman did not finally oust the two more ancient words for ‘female person’, wife and the now obsolete quean (source of queen), until the end of the Middle English period. (Ayto, p. 576)
MAN – from Old English man- ‘human being’, ‘person’; from Indo-European men- think. (Pokorny, p. 726)
Words derived or related to men-:
mind (Old Eng.)
In all the Germanic languages, the word [man] originally had the two-fold sense ‘human being’ and ‘adult male human being’. Later, with the exception of English, the sense “human being” was mainly assumed by a derivative (e. g. German Mensch Dutch mens). The primary sense of Old English was ‘human being’. The words wer [cf. viril] and wif (meaning man and woman) were used to distinguish the sexes. (See virile, wife, woman.) By the late 1200’s Middle English were (Old English wer) began to disappear, and was replaced by man in the sense of ‘adult male human being’. (Barnhardt, p. 627)
Etymologically, history denotes simply ‘knowledge’. Its story begins with the Greek histor- ‘learned, wise man’, a descendant of Indo-European wid/weid- ‘know’, ‘see’. From histor was derived historia- ‘knowledge obtained by enquiry’, hence ‘written account of one’s enquiries’, narrative, history. English acquired it via Latin historia- narrative, account, story. (Ayto, p. 282; see Pokorny, p. 1125)
The meaning of a formal record of past events is probably first recorded about 1451. (Barnhardt, p. 483.)
Weid- to see, the Indo-European root of history, has a host of important related, fundamental words in many languages, amongst which are:
German: wissen (know), Gewissen (conscience), Bewusstsein (consciousness)
Slavic: вид, совесть
Sources: John Ayto, Dictionary of Word Origins (1990); ed., Robert Barnhardt, The Barnhardt Dictionary of Etymology (1988); Julius Pokorny, Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (1959); ed., Calvert Watkins, The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (1985)
When speaking with Americans (and many other Westerners) – including “university graduates” and even many narrowly specialized professors – it is best to assume that they do not know this facts from mankind’s history.
First published in the magazine English, #17, May 1997, p. 15.
See also the essay Eve vs. Adam? – Some Experiences with Women in America (English, ##10, 2001).