One of my favorite words in English is "to germinate." I could have said germination but it would not be the same. I like words which are in the form of verbs. Infinitives. What a beautiful name for verbs! They move, they make something happen when they hang on in the atmosphere. It is as though they are really infinite. An endless becoming...
Anyway... Today, after a chance encounter with the etymology of the word "fool" (which was also very interesting) I wondered what would be the word I would like to learn about while the page of an online etymology dictionary was still open in the screen. "To germinate!" I said to myself with enthusiasm. The dictionary first refered to "germination" (which I find a little dull), then from that page we smoothly passed to "germ" which was given as the root of all.
Here is the definition and the history of "germ":
mid-15c., "bud, sprout;" 1640s, "rudiment of a new organism in an existing one," from M.Fr. germe "germ (of egg); bud, seed, fruit; offering," from L. germen (gen. germinis) "sprout, bud," perhaps from PIE base *gen- "to beget, bear" (see genus). The older sense is preserved in wheat germ and germ of an idea;[...]
Then something else comes into play: "sense of "seed of a disease" first recorded 1803; that of "harmful microorganism" dates from 1871. Germ warfare recorded from 1920."
How different is the definition of "rudiment of a new organism in an existing one" from "seed of a disease", or "harmful microorganism." Of course it could be said that this change in the sense of the word "germ" is parallel to the germ theory of disease which was validated in the late 19th century. But still I have a hard time to follow this kind of causal thinking. It is very dry and therefore it does not seem to be the real explanation of what happened. Furthermore, what I am inclined to believe is the almost opposite of this inference: I think the sense of "germ" has already been changed, it had already began to reside in the "bad" side, otherwise it would be impossible to name a bad, sickening thing with a word which carries life, which is "good." So life itself must have become a burden at some point. Then somebody was able to find "germs" as causes of disease.
How did we come to understand "new life" as a bad thing? Is it because new life does not ask our permission to sprout? Are we offended by life and its ways to invent itself? Why are we so afraid?
Another thing worth thinking in a different way, without resorting to causal explanations that reduce our sense of the world, thus us, to something which has no effect at all. It is like breathing and not even noticing the air you breath in eventhough you cannot live a second without it (well, it may be a little longer for some of us). We have to understand our making-sense-of-the-world right to be able to change it, or to get a breath of fresh air...
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