Dignity, Humiliation, and Word History

By Francisco Gomes de Matos, a peace linguist from Recife, Brazil

One of the fascinating areas in Literacy is Etymology, the study of the history of words. Let´s look at four sets of words and when each word first appeared in English, for instance:

Dignity – from 1175; dignify – from 1375; dignified – from 1660

Indignation – from 1325; indignity – from 1575; indignant – from 1580

Humiliation – from 1350; humiliate – from 1525

To expand this etymological research, I suggest that you look up the date of entry of respect into written languages. In English, it first appeared in written form from 1300. How about worth and worthy, worthiness?

Worth- before the year 900; worthy and worthiness – from 1175

My source: The Random House Webster`s College Dictionary (1995 edition). An alternate source: The Oxford English Dictionary.

Hope these bits of word history will arouse your interest and help make you minimally knowledgeable about “language as the archives of history”, as Ralph Waldo Emerson insightfully put it in 1844 (Essays:Second Series).

(Received September 20, 2009)

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