Tuesday, March 1, 2011

eidos, eidetic, eidolon!

i found a great word recently, courtesy of a.word.a.day, and enjoyed the resulting etymological trail. the word was eidos (n): "the formal sum of a culture, its intellectual character, ideas, etc." as is probably self-evident, it's from the greek eidos (form, idea), and ultimately from the indo-european root weid (to see), which is in turn the source of words such as wise, view, supervise, wit, and eidetic.

interestingly, eidetic - which means both "marked by extraordinarily accurate and vivid recall" and "pertaining to the faculty of projecting images" was derived from the german eidetisch, and coined by german psychologist erich jaensch (1883-1940) circa 1924. it also hails from the greek eidetikos - "pertaining to images" and/or "pertaining to knowledge," from eidesis (knowledge), and again from eidos (form, shape), and the indo-european root *weid, as above.

eidos is descended from oid - suffix for "like, like that of," from greek oeides, from eidos, which is related to idein (to see), eidenai ("to know"; lit. "to see"); all of which are ultimately derived from the proto-indo-european root *weid-es, from base *weid (to see, to know). this root is also the root for vision.

vision hails from the late 13c. - "something seen in the imagination or in the supernatural", from anglo-french visioun, old french vision, from latin visionem (act of seeing, sight, thing seen), in turn derived from videre (to see) and from proto-indo-european base *weid (to know, to see).

this root has a plethora of derivatives: sanskrit's veda (i know); avestan vaeda (i know); greek oida and doric woida (i know) and idein (to see); old irish fis (vision), find (white - i.e. clearly seen), fiuss (knowledge); welsh gwyn, gaulish vindos, breton gwenn (all of which denote white); gothic/ old swedish/ old english witan (to know); gothic weitan (to see); english wise and german wissen (to know); lithuanian vysti (to see), bulgarian vidya (i see); polish widzieć (to see) and wiedzieć (to know); russian videt' (to see), vest' (news) and old russian vedat' (to know). the meaning of "sense of sight" is first recorded in the late 15c. vision's denotation of "statesman-like foresight, political sagacity" is attested from 1926.

by now, you're probably wondering where i'm going with this...well, hold on. all this talk of beholding, seeing, knowing, vision started me thinking about that other eidos word: idol.

idol, which from the mid-13c., denotes the "image of a deity as an object of (pagan) worship," from old french idole, from lay latin idolum (image - mental or physical, form). it was used in church latin for "false god". it was derived from the greek eidolon (appearance), later "mental image, apparition, phantom," and also "material image, statue," and again from eidos! its figurative sense of "something idolized" is first recorded in the 1560s. the application of its meaning as "a person so adored" is from the 1590s. idolatry (mid-13c.) comes from old french idolatrie, shortened from lay latin idololatria, from greek eidololatria (worship of idols), from eidolon "image" + latreia "worship, service."

so now i'm thinking about culture and its idols (and our idols);
the way we worship the things we see;
and the way what we see shapes what we worship;
and how what we behold becomes part of us; 
and how we serve those images, whether cultural or internal;
and how vision and "knowing" are inextricably and intimately linked together;
the connection of [internal] vision to the supernatural (perhaps even prophetic?)...

and that, my friends, is a deeply satisfying and engaging word search.