The previous Wordmonger post got me thinking about devils & such.
The word devil, has always referred to something bad – or at least something dangerous. Deofol was an Old English word meaning evil spirit, false god, or diabolical person. It came from Late Latin’s diabolus, a term used both in Christianity & Judaism to mean Satan, accuser or slanderer. By 1600, English speakers had added the meaning clever rogue, as in “you devil, you.” By 1835 in American English the word devil also referred to sand spouts & dust storms.
Demon, on the other hand, went from good to bad over time.Demon entered English as early as 1200. It came from the Latin word daemon, meaning spirit. The Latin came from the Greek, daimon, which meant deity, divine power, lesser god, guiding spirit, tutelary deity, or souls of the dead. Daimon also had an intriguing secondary meaning: one’s genius, lot, or fortune. The Greek and Latin meanings are a far cry from demon’s negative meaning today. This “demonizing” of the word demon occurred about the time of the establishment of Christianity. Though Socrates wrote of his demon as the divine principle or inward oracle, over time, the grandmothers of our modern word demon were perceived as idols, fiends, devils and hellknights, How different would our world be today if demon had maintained its Socratic flavor, & had been equated with that still small voice within?
Dear followers, what are your thoughts on the demonizing of demon? Might that etymology have inspired series like Pullman’s His Dark Materials? Would any of you care to grab some presently evil word & propose a glowing past for it?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com, The OED & Wordnik.
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.