Modern American society appears to be ambivalent about learning. We all claim it’s of paramount importance, but oddly, those who excel at it are seldom considered heroes. After looking into the etymologies of these two words, I find myself wondering whether the concept so many of us really admire and aspire to is that of studying more than learning.
To my surprise, the word learn covers only 2/3 of a page of the OED. To be truthful, the entry isn’t fascinating reading. Learn has roots in all the Germanic languages (except for Dutch, for some unknown reason). Ever since it entered English about 900 AD, learn has meant to acquire knowledge. About the most intriguing story learn has to tell us is that back in the 1400s, “I learned him his lesson,” was considered proper English.
The word study, on the other hand, is worthy of some study. It covers nearly three pages of the OED. It’s related to studio, student, & etude. Study comes from Latin through French, and originally referred to zealousness, affection, seeking help, & applying oneself. It made its way into English writings when Chaucer employed it in 1374, and has countless shades of meaning. The verb alone includes, but is not limited to these varied nuances:
-devotion to another’s welfare
-the action of committing to memory
-an employment, occupation or pursuit
-careful observation or examination
-a state of mental perplexity
-a state of reverie or abstraction
-application of mind to the acquisition of learning
-desire, inclination, pleasure or interest in something
What a world it would be if we all immersed ourselves in study in all its various meanings. Even that state of mental perplexity can be a great thing. When I’m perplexed about something, it often leads me to, well, further study.
Dear followers, what connections do you make with the various meanings of study, or what theories do you have regarding society’s apparent ambivalence regarding this topic?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com MerriamWebster.com, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.