It occurred to me the other day that based on their word parts, substance & understand could almost be synonyms, or might at least work in concert to tell an interesting story. Doesn’t sub-mean under? Don’t stand & stance mean pretty much the same thing?
The word understand takes up a page and a half in the Oxford English Dictionary with its fourteen shades of meaning. Understand comes from the Old English word, understandan. Stand means exactly what one might expect, to stand, but under - in Old English - meant something other than the under we Modern English speakers know today. Instead, it meant in the midst of. So to understand something is to stand in its midst.
Substance takes about two full pages in the Oxford English Dictionary. Like understand, it has fourteen shades of meaning. Substance comes from the Latin substare, literally, to stand firm. Its primary meaning now is essential nature or essence.
Understand & substance aren’t synonyms at all, but together, they inspire some pondering.
To understand something’s substance, one must stand in the midst of its essence. When we really want to grasp something, isn’t that exactly what we do? Don’t we surround ourselves as much as possible with whatever it is, then stand there, & breathe it all in?
Some of the substance I’m working on understanding this year includes (but isn’t limited to):
-baking a loaf of bread with those nifty, sourdough-ish
holes in it,
-stepping up my guitar-playing skills, &
-improving my methods of novel revision.
Followers, what substance are you throwing yourself into the midst of? What essence has got your attention?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, OxfordDictionaries.com, & the OED.
I write for teens & tweens, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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