There, I feel much better now!

We humans are unique in being capable of abstract thought, and critical to that process is language.  Spoken language preceded the written form but writing has added a wealth of complexity, and capability.  If there is to be hope for humanity to rise above our animal passions, I think it will be found in the continuing evolution of language.

Is it not remarkable that we have been a species for some 200,000 years and yet writing is so young in comparison?   Wikipedia says the earliest evidence of it was in the sixth millennium B.C., but that was a form of accounting, apparently made necessary by the invention of agriculture and the keeping of records.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The bible came along of course less than two millennia ago.  The printing press, movable type, appeared in China about 1041 and in Germany in 1450.  So, tossing around abstract concepts has only been common for some 1% of the time we’ve been around.  There’s no doubt in my military mind that this accounts for the dramatic effect we creatures are having on our planet.  Climate change, yes, but all of technology as well:  roads, highways, buildings, dams, the atomic bomb, wars, the extinction of species.  The Blue Marble will never be the same, unless of course we destroy ourselves by letting our animal natures out-pace our capacity for abstract reasoning.  Nature would likely recover pretty well in a million years or so.

credit:  fineartamerica.com

credit: fineartamerica.com

I’ve expressed these thoughts before in posts and comments, but dwelling on them got me to thinking about language.  Even well into my senior years, it still fascinates and as I’ve blogged over the past three years my interest in words has been re-kindled.  I have found myself keeping a vocabulary list on my computer’s desktop and I thought I might try sharing it with you, dear reader, word by word and from time to time.  I hope there’s  interest, and if so you might throw it back at me in a context of your own, maybe even an uncommon one.

With apologies to Sesame Street, then, today’s post is brought to you by the word:

ca·thar·sis\kə-ˈthär-səs\

noun
1 : purgation
2 a : purification or purgation of the emotions (as pity and fear) primarily through art
b : a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension
3 : elimination of a complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression
Other forms: plural ca·thar·ses \-ˌsēz\
Origin: New Latin, from Greek katharsis, from kathairein to cleanse, purge, from katharos.
First use: circa 1775

There!  That word has been percolating in my brain for years and is surprisingly useful in all manner of situations.  Airing my fondness for it has been downright cathartic!

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.  -  Mark Twain

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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10 Responses to There, I feel much better now!

  1. PiedType says:

    “Catharsis” is a fine word that’s been in my vocabulary for a long time. What caught my attention was “purgation.” Interesting. I expected to see “purging.” Now I have to go look up some usage notes. See what you’ve started?

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I hope you enjoy the chase, PT, it’s one I am even more susceptible to now that I have Merriam Webster on my iPad. I discovered that on any definition I can simply put my finger on any word in it and be instantly transported to its own entry. If at anytime I go missing, look for me in the dictionary where I probably got lost! :grin:

  2. Moe says:

    Jim – that’s a beaut of a Twain quote. I’ll have to put it up (with proper attribution of course).

  3. Frank says:

    Indeed, a great thought-provoking post. I’m taken back by the short existence of the written word, and yes, the impact of the printing press is far reaching, but your words have taken my thoughts to one of my favorites.

  4. shimoniac says:

    I have heard of writing things down being called ‘time-binding’. The explanation is that when something is an oral tradition, each generation of the tradition is a little different from the previous; a process the speaker called ‘blur’. Things get added, omitted, altered, or even entirely forgotten; lost to time. Interestingly enough, music was included in this theory of time binding. The theory is that being able to write things down allows us to bind time so that someone years from now can ‘hear’ us and our words, and know our intent. That said, I find the longer ago a time was bound, the less likely we are to be able to understand it.

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Indeed, time-binding would seem to be a most useful concept. Regarding “blur”, I was forced in high school to read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and I’m glad of it in retrospect. It was laborious because of blur, but the bard had a marvelous way with words. The lesson remains with me that the meanings of words are not fixed, but fluid, as in analogies, synonyms and similes, and that it’s permitted and useful to even coin new ones. Bill would have been amused, methinks, at the OED’s recently-released word of the year, selfie. But Beowulf and the Canterbury Tales – forgeddaboudit. Blur city! :smile:

      Thanks, shimoniac, for your perspicacious comment.

      perspicacious |ˌpərspiˈkāSHəs|
      adjective
      having a ready insight into and understanding of things: it offers quite a few facts to the perspicacious reporter.
      DERIVATIVES
      perspicaciouslyadverb
      ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Latin perspicax, perspicac- ‘seeing clearly’ + -acious.

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