Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch
cbertsch

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The Shame

I'm beside myself with embarrassment. In my entry about circumcision this morning, I provided a false etymology. Even worse, I deceived my own daughter with the same lie. I didn't mean to perpetuate the deceit, but that doesn't make things right. So, without further ado, let me state, for the record, as bobo_amargo so graciously pointed out, that the word "incident" has a different parentage than "incisive." While the latter does, in fact, come from the Latin "cædere," meaning "to strike" or " to cut," the former actually derives from the Latin "cadere," meaning "to fall" or "to die."

My confusion came from an undergraduate lecture that I either remembered too dimly or didn't comprehend to begin with. You see, I had thought that those two Latin verbs were from the same Indo-European root because my instructor had made a play on words that centered on the phrase, "when the strike falls." But I've looked up the words in the Oxford English Dictionary and a few etymological dictionaries and can find no evidence to support my ill-founded conviction that "incident" and "incisive" are related.

The worst part of this discovery is that it is accompanied by the realization that I have done precisely what I rag on Martin Heidegger for doing: playing fast and loose with the history of words. I hope this isn't the start of something more serious. If I start looking at photos of Hannah Arendt with inexplicable longing -- already a possibility, given that she was definitely my type -- and am overcome with the desire to remove my shoes and dangle my feet in a Black Forest stream, I will know that I am infected. Maybe I should have a glance at Theodor Adorno's The Jargon of Authenticity in the hopes that it will serve as the zinc needed to forestall the worsening of this false etymology-inducing virus.
Tags: autobiography, humor, language
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