Ah, the Muse. We writers depend upon her visits.
Etymologically, she started out as a verb, which somehow seems appropriate. Once the Greeks got hold of her, it’s tough to figure out the family tree, but all the various etymological limbs are pretty intriguing.
Many sources connect muse to some unknown language which contributed to the Gallo-Romance word musa, meaning snout, suggesting a connection to a dog snooting around in the underbrush. Though the OED seriously doubts this connection, it appeals to me in terms of an author’s work.
Muse’s OED-approved multi-century voyage to English began as an Indo-Germanic root meaning, “to think, to remember.” It passed through Greek, Latin and French, with its English form first making it to paper in the hands of Geoffrey Chaucer.
The OED offers five full entries on muse, each packed full with shades of meaning, some of them downright quirky. Among the many worth a gander are:
“to look or wait expectantly”
“waste of time”
“to grumble or complain”
“to murmur discontentedly”
“profound meditation or abstraction”
“to stare about, to idle, to loiter”
“one of the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne”
Milton referred to his muse as an idealized version of one of these daughters, Urania, his “true, celestial source of inspiration.”
What do you think? Do you share Milton’s “true, celestial source of inspiration?” Does your muse feel more like a verb or a noun? Does it involve deception, marveling, excogitation?
Thanks to this week’s sources: etymonline.com, the OED, & wordnik.com.
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.
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