History In English Words

Barnes and Noble has reissued Owen Barfield‘s venerable book, History In English Words, first published in 1953, revised in 1967, and now (2009) reprinted, with a foreword by British poet W.H. Auden.

One of Barfield’s approaches is to select specific words, trace their etymology, and then discuss them in different historical, political, economic, and rhetorical situations.  His etymological baseline, as it were, often goes chronologically beyond Greek and Latin roots to Aryan ones, and in this case, “Aryan” refers to the culture that arose between what we now call Eastern Europe and what we now call Asia; some Aryan groups lived in what is now known as Iraq, for example.  “Aryan” in this case does not refer to the sinister fantasy-culture associated with you-know-who.

Here is a politically related excerpt from Barfield’s intriguing book (specifically from pages 52-53 of the Barnes and Noble edition; Italics are Barfield’s):

“. . .  Political, politics, politician, and parliamentary first appear in the sixteenth century, and Cabinet Council seems to have been introduced at the accession of Charles I. Cabal, one of the few Hebrew words in the English language, probably owes its familiarity to two historical events. It was applied in Charles II’s reign to a small committee of the Privy Council, also known as the “Committee for Foreign Affairs,” which afterwards become the Cabinet; moreover, a little later on it happened that the names of the five Ministers who signed the Treaty of Alliance with France against Holland were Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale. Their initials thus arranged spell the word cabal, which was humorously used to describe them. . . . Independent and independence are als Purtian words, and the useful demagogue first appeared in the Eikon Basilike, the famous pamphlet in defence of the Crown, which Milton answered with his Eikonoklastes.”

Now “demagogue” is deployed as a verb, not just as a noun, of course.  Someone accuses this or that politician, pundit, or group  of  attempting “to demagogue” an issue.   We do not seem to be suffering from a national shortage of demagogues; is that fair to “say” (write)?


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