Thursday, December 30, 2010




1 : a person to be revered for high-mindedness, wisdom, and selflessness
2 : a person of great prestige in a field of endeavor



: merge, blend

MAHATMA does not have its own place in the thesaurus; it appears first under the entry for celebrity, along with synonyms like big cheese, hot shot, and superstar. I would have equated the word more with messiah—number four out of five meanings is: a zealous leader of some cause or project. This leads me to believe MAHATMA is slowly losing it's first meaning and moving closer to the vagueness that infects much of modern language.

This is a topic I've inadvertently touched on several times in the writing of this blog. Within my brief peeks into etymology, I've noticed a trend of meanings becoming more vague, softened, general. The word qualm comes to mind—a word that once meant a violent attack of illness because of a bad feeling, an instinct, hormonal perhaps. The word now just means a doubt. Maybe we are less in touch with the physical cues of our instincts. Maybe we shut them out. I read the softening of the word as a parallel softening of us, or rather, of a more primal intuition.

It's a modern stereotype that westerners don't believe in any of that mumbo-jumbo, so to speak, and the English language reflects that disbelief. Hold it together, keep out of nonsense, it's nothing, it's nothing, napkin in lap, hands at sides, smile now, don't give away your doubt.

And meanings MELD together and drift away from their distinction, no longer unique, but homogenous. The words lose their identities. They are our slaves. We take a word and say it over and over to rob it of its meaning, it becomes a lost sound. We are confused by the new foreignness of such familiar word, but in awe of our role in the matter. Look what I have done! Like pouring salt on a slug and reveling in both our power and our shame.

Somewhere someone has the power to delete words from existence, take them off the map leaving only a palimpsest; the lost meanings appear as shadows in the meanings of new, shiny, compact words. The erased words are now only meaningless sounds. Gibberish.

And gibberish is a word. A word to describe the obscurity of words.


I started this blog a year ago to "challenge myself to find relevance in every single one of those words." What I have found is that relevance is subjective. There is no relevance to find in any word, it is ours to give. Such is the nature of language. Meaning comes from the beholder.

I admit I also hoped this blog would expand my vocabulary. But as I look back at the words I have studied, I remember only a handful of definitions. What I remember is what I wrote, how I processed, what the word inspired within me. This is the difference between definition and meaning. I have given each one of these words a new meaning—a meaning somehow attached to me and how I see the world. The words don't really matter, they are only tools. It's about learning how to better wield them to our advantage.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. I know it's belated but... Thank you for writing.