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 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.
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:
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