Letter To The Editor: Note Inspired By John Bartlit’s ‘Tales Of Our Times’

White Rock
This Thursday’s Los Alamos Daily Post carried a column by John Bartlit, Tales Of Our Times: what Do Our Words Really Mean?.
It inspired me to write this note; it approaches word meanings from a different direction, their origin (etymology). Even as a young lad, I liked to read dictionaries; I especially became interested in word origins. Most dictionaries have some indications of the language roots and original meanings.
For example, consider the word PHYSICS, which applies to many people in Los Alamos. Physics is the Greek word for NATURE. Well into the 20th century, physicists were called NATURAL PHILOSOPHERS. Now take SCIENCE, the present participle of the Latin verb SCIRE, pronounced Shear-ay. This has two meanings: TO KNOW, and TO DIVIDE or CUT (i.e. shear). Think of the many divisions of science today; bio-physics, geo-physics, bio-medical-physics, etc. We’ve created a veritable Tower of Babel that like the Old Testament story makes it more difficult for communication between our many disciplines.
Let’s look at a few other words; consider CHEMISTRY, which derives from alchemy, meaning a natural physical process. This scientific study was not so called until 1788 Alchemy derives from Latin alkimia and from Arabic al-kimiya (Arabs took the art and word from the Alexandrians). It may have come from an old Egyptian word Khemia, or from Greek khymatos “that which is poured out.”
Al- is the Arabic definite article, the. Most Spanish words beginning with ‘al’ came into Spanish through the Moors who occupied southern Spain for several centuries. Examples include, alfombra (the rug or carpet), algodon (the cotton), alcalde (the mayor), alcachofa (the artichoke) and finally ALLAH (The God). Allah bears similarity to the God of the Old Testament, YAHWEH (the one who is, the existing) from which we derive Jehovah.
I’ll stop here, but there are very many fascinating things to be learned by studying etymology.