Monday, January 9, 2012

Nascence, Renaissance, and the Birth of Nation

The Latin infinitive nasci, "to be born," gives us nascent, "coming or having recently come into existence." It also gives us nascency and nascence (and occasionally naissance), which all mean "birth." One step further removed and we get renascent, renascence, and renaissance, which mean "rebirth" (though renascent, according to Merriam-Webster's, seems to be less about a return to life than about a return to vigor).

Homer was also called Melesigenes (son of Mele...
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The "rebirth" of the Renaissance period was a revival of interest in and study of ancient Greek and Roman scholarship, philosophy, and culture, known today as "classical studies."

And while we're birthing and rebirthing things, how about the word nation? It, too, comes from nasci, from Latin to Middle French to Middle English to us. So, in a way, that trite phrase and controversial old movie, "birth of a nation," is redundant.

In a way, of course. Etymology does not dictate meaning; it tells you where a word comes from, but not what a word is.
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