Ancient Family Lexicon, or Words and Loneliness

“Whoever knows the nature of the name… knows the nature of the thing itself, ” Plato observed in his Cratylus. To know is a complex verb, difficult but rich. According to the dictionary, it means “to have news of a thing,” “to know that it exists or what it is.” In classical languages, the concept of knowing was linked with being born. Thus by coming into the world others have “news” about us: their recognition of us is part of our birth. Knowing the roots of the words at the basis of human relationships permits us to revive a world in which individuals existed as men and women or boys and girls with no middle ground. I will explain what that means. The ancestors of these appellations (woman, girl, man, boy) denoted a particular way of being that subsequent cultures have lost. As the meaning of the words changed, the beings themselves changed. Back then, before these semantic developments, it was understood that the condition of boyhood was synonymous with immaturity, and the divide between childhood and adulthood had to be put to the test of life. Moreover, youth and old age were not personal categories but attitudes of soul and mind. What follows is a sort of Indo-European family lexicon, and a portrait of a lost world. Mother The word comes from the Indo-European mater, formed by the characteristically childish elementary root ma– and the suffix of kinship –ter. In Greek it is mētēr, in Latin mater, in Sanskrit mātar, in Armenian mayr, in Russian mat, in German Mutter, in English mother, in French mère, in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese madre, in Irish máthair, in Bosnian majika. Father The word comes from the Indo-European pater, formed by the elementary root pa- and the suffix of kinship –ter. In Greek

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