Posts Tagged ‘Freud’

…and we’re back!

After a three-week hiatus caused by the vicissitudes of modern life, a feeling of guilt has washed over me and the only way to towel it off it to write something. A combination of traveling and writing reports for which I get paid (and although I prefer the fun of The Etyman Language Blog, that won’t but me food or fix my motorcycle) has kept me too busy to update my posts. Mea culpa.

I’m not criminally guilty. As far as I am aware, there’s no law that forces me to update my blog, so the arrival of a fully armed SWAT team is not something I need to be worrying about. The sense of guilt I have arises from an internally developed sense of duty to both myself and my seven readers. Well, maybe it’s eight. Whatever the number, I only have myself to blame for the guilt because if I’d been smart enough never to have started this blogging adventure following my 50th birthday, I’d be free to do other things that are less stressful.

According to the OED, guilt is;

A failure of duty, delinquency; offence, crime, sin.

In my case, missed posts could be considered delinquent, but hardly criminal, and certainly not sinful – unless there was an 11th commandment written on the third tablet of stone that Moses dropped on his way down. Freud was hot on the notion of guilt as being related to sin, to the point that in his Civilization and its Discontents (1931), he argued that the guilt/sin relationship was a tool that religions use to keep the faithful in check:

The different religions have never overlooked the part played by the sense of guilt in civilization. What is more, they come forward with a claim…to save mankind from this sense of guilt, which they call sin.

According to Herant Katchadourian in his fascinating book, guilt is the bite of conscience. The good news here is that if I am feeling guilty, then I must have a conscience! Thank God for that – I was beginning to wonder…

The word as a noun pops up as an Old English word, gylt, in the Blickling Homilies of 1150 in reference to a passage dating even further back to around 971:

Þonne onfoþ hie forgifnesse ealra heora gylta æt urum Drihtne.

However, the verb form, meaning “to commit an offense, trespass, or sin” turns up in The Vespasian Psalter in the sentence “Swoete & reht dryten fore ðissum aee gesette gyltendum in wege.” The base verb is gyltan and seems to have no equivalents in other Germanic languages. It sounds a little like the German geld meaning gold, which is turn is hypothesized to have its origins in the Old Germanic *geld– meaning “to pay,” but it seems a bit of a stretch to tie “paying” with “failing in duty.”

So where might it have come from? Or in case the Grammar Police are checking up on me, from where might it have come?

Looking at instances where Old English has been changed to Latin, we find that gylt is rendered as debitum in The Lord’s Prayer, and gultiȝ turns up as debet in the Gospel of Matthew. So here’s where there’s a case to be made for guilt having the sense of debt – something you owe. And certainly feeling guilty because you have failed to deliver what was owed doesn’t appear too way out.

If we accept this – and you’re always free to disagree – then we can find some similar Germanic family words related to debt. Old English has the word scyld meaning crime, sin, or just plain guilt, which in turn is cognate with Old Norse skuld, Old Saxon sculd, and Old High German scult, all of which also have the sense of debt or bondage.

It turns out to be a fairly promiscuous word in that it seems happy to spread itself about a bit amongst the different parts of speech.  As well as being the noun and verb guilt, and the common adjective guilty, it can easily become the adverb guiltily. You can also talk about someone having guiltiness (noun) and being guiltful (adjective). If you then factor in its opposite forms, by sticking on the suffix –less you can add guiltless, guiltlessly, and guiltlessness to your vocabulary.

And it would be remiss of me to pass up the opportunity to mention how the word is used in the phrase, “guilty pleasure.” Although the OED doesn’t include it, The Corpus of Historical American English has a citation from 1817 in Francis August Cox’s Female Scriptures Biographies: Volume 1:

In our alarm we forget God, think it “strange,” brood with a melancholy, but guilty pleasure, over our sufferings, and act as if we thought that “God had forgotten to be gracious.”

A “guilty pleasure” is an activity or object that someone finds pleasurable but that also induces a sense of guilt because it is in some way “wrong.” There’s also the sense that the guilty pleasure is something shared by others who feel similar guilt. Thus, admitting you like to watch trashy TV reality shows is seen as a guilty pleasure whereas admitting you like abducting children is a criminal activity. The sense of “wrongness” is typically a social phenomenon and not a statutory felonious action. Again, stealing a car may be pleasurable to some, but it doesn’t qualify as a guilty pleasure.

Guilty pleasures are relative and can change over time. I used to consider watching Ren and Stimpy cartoons as a guilty pleasure, but now I count is merely as a pleasure – there’s now no guilt involved. And originally, smoking was a pleasure, then a criminal activity, and now a guilty pleasure. Twenty years ago, looking at the 16-year-old glamor models on page 3 of the UK’s Sun newspaper is a guilty pleasure for a Brit, but opening your copy of the Sun when you got off the plane in Newark Liberty airport was a felony offense for being in possession of child pornography!

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Anyone who has taken to checking out this site on a regular basis will have noticed that I haven’t posted in three weeks. With my avowed aim of providing weekly content, that’s what might be termed an “epic fail.” Part of the reason is that I’ve been feeling particularly jaded lately. I know you don’t read The Etyman to find out what’s happening in my personal life, nor is my personal life interesting enough to warrant any curiosity on your part, but my weekly word of choice is often influenced by my immediate circumstances – consciously and unconsciously.

Freud, with whose writings I am passingly familiar, once wrote the following:

He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore. (Freud, 1905, Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria)

This is the basis behind the popular notion of the Freudian Slip, those little verbal slips-of-the-tongue that tell the hearer more about the speaker than the speaker would want them to know. This notion of the subconscious influencing speech was used by Carl Jung as the basis of his technique of Word Association, where he would say a word and ask his patients to then say the first word that came into their heads. Armed with his list and a stopwatch, Jung became the darling of Freud until their big fall out in 1912.

So in order to spare you the time trying to work out why I chose jaded for this week’s post, I decided to save you the time and come straight out with it: I chose jaded because I am jaded!

The word goes back to the 14th century and is defined by the OED as;

A contemptuous name for a horse; a horse of inferior breed, e.g. a cart- or draught-horse as opposed to a riding horse; a roadster, a hack; a sorry, ill-conditioned, wearied, or worn-out horse; a vicious, worthless, ill-tempered horse; rarely applied to a donkey.

It first appears in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, specifically the Nun’s Priest Prologue, where he writes, “Be blithe though thou ryde vp-on a Iade, What thogh thyn hors be bothe foule and lene.”

Although the origin of the word is a little uncertain, it has been thought to be a version of the Scottish dialectal word yaud, a poetic word for “mare.” Old Norse has the word jalda that means the same, and so there does seem to be a link between the words.

By the 16th century, the word had taken on a negative meaning as a term of abuse for a woman, although it also appears to have been used in a more playful sense as in hussy, minx, or dame. In his Diaries, Samuel Pepys wrote, “Mrs. Pierce says she [Miss Davis] is a most homely jade as ever she saw (1668)” and in the Times newspaper of January 14th, 1883, “A procession of scamps and jades, who marched through Paris wearing in mockery vestments robbed from the churches.”

It’s use as a verb is first seen in Shakespeare’s 1606 Anthony and Cleopatra, Act III, Scene I:

I’ll humbly signify what in his name,
That magical word of war, we have effected;
How, with his banners and his well-paid ranks,
The ne’er-yet-beaten horse of Parthia
We have jaded out o’ the field.

The word is being used figuratively to describe the act of turning a horse into a jade by wearing it out and making it tired. In 1620, Bishop Robert Sanderson used it intransitively in one of his Sermons in the sentence, “As an horse that is good at hand, but naught at length, so is the Hypocrite; free and fiery for a spurt, but he jadeth and tyreth in a journey.”

Then, in 1623, the -ed participle is used to create an adjective by Sir Charles Sidley in a critique of untalented poets and playwright when he said, “But when on spurs their Pegasus they force, their jaded Muse is distanced in the course.” From around the mid-17th century, the word took on the meaning of describing the feeling of being dull or sated by constant use or indulgence, as well as worn out and fatigued. The idea of jaded meaning weariness exists to this day.

Aerosmith gave the word star billing in their 2000 single, Jaded, the video for which was a showcase for actress Mila Kunis, who had already been playing Jackie Burkhart on the hit Fox TV comedy, That 70’s Show.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the word jade as applied to the ornamental stone has a different origin. It comes from the 16th century Spanish phrase piedra de ijada, which means “stone of the side” and canb e traced further back to the Latin ilia, meaning side, flank, or groin. The jade stone was reputed to cure ailments located in these regions.

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