The words science, conscience, omniscient & many others having to do with thought, knowledge & internal understanding all come through French from the Latin word scire, to know. Most of these words have been with us since the 1300s- 1600s – a part of our collective consciousness.
What I find fascinating about these scire-derived words is how they reflect, or even constrict the ways we imagine what thought & internal understanding are. The Proto-Indo European root of scire was skei, which meant to separate one thing from another, to cut or divide, to sort. Skei also gave birth to schism, rescind, schizophrenic, & shed (as in bloodshed or the shedding of skin).
Does knowledge & understanding really involve disjointed, separate facts more than the relationships between those facts? What happened to the value of the bigger picture? Inclusion? Fullness? Might our collective understanding of learning be weakened when our vocabulary devalues larger patterns, connections, & non-linear processes, even spiritual pursuits?
Could basing our understanding of knowledge and conscience on separation, cutting & division be responsible for an over-reliance on the value of discrete facts, on multiple choice tests, specialists, Jeopardy, a dwindling reverence for generalists, & the loss of what we used to call a well-rounded education? Might such a misunderstanding lead to phenomena like sexism & racism?
Maybe I’m just an etymology-fascinated crackpot. Maybe this line of reasoning includes some shred of truth. Please leave a comment (& I won’t be offended at all if you think I’m a crackpot).
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, & 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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