Friday, February 29, 2008

Economy Etymology

Because I'm too wrapped up in work crap to be creative, and for you people who like this stuff better anyhow:

For all its voodoo power, economy is a most humble word. It means nothing more, etymologically, than "household management." The lowly benedict trying to balance diapers and beer on one paycheck is participating in it as fully as -- and more accurately than -- the multinational corporation.

In fact, when the word first appeared in English, in Henry VIII's day, it meant just that: "household management."

It comes via Latin from Greek oikonomia. It's an abstract noun from oikonomos "manager, steward, superintendent."

In ancient Greece, an oikonomos usually was a freed-man or a slave. He was a sort of head servant in the family, and the master of the house (who often would be away on civic duties) entrusted him with day-to-day management, receipts and expenditures, and payments to other servants.

The sense of the word expanded in Hellenistic times to include superintendents of finances of the city-states and treasurers of kings. It also was used figuratively for "a preacher of the Gospel" in early Christian writing.

Economy in the sense of "manage the resources of a country" is short for political economy. The single word in that sense is attested in English from 1651. Economical (1780) retains the sense "characterized by thrift," but economic (1835) means "related to the science of economics."

Oikonomos is a compound of oikos "house" and nomos "managing," from the verb nemein "to manage."

Oikos comes from the ancient Proto-Indo-European word *weik- meaning "clan," which yielded the words for "house" or "village" in many languages, for instance Old English wic "dwelling, village," which is not much used nowadays in Standard English but forms an element in many place names. The same root perhaps provides the first element in viking, if, as some think, they were named for their temporary camps or habitations while out raiding.

Also in the family are Latin villa "country house, farm," vicus "district, village, group of houses;" Sanskrit vesah "house," vit "dwelling, house, settlement;" Avestan vis "house, village, clan;" Old Persian vitham "house, royal house;" Old Church Slavonic visi "village;" Gothic weihs "village;" and Lithuanian viešpats "master of the house."

A relative that has made its way into English, via the Latin line, is vicinity, from Latin vicinitas "of or pertaining to neighbors or a neighborhood," from vicinus "neighbor, neighboring," from vicus. Another, obviously, is village, from Old French village "houses and other buildings in a group" (usually smaller than a town), from Latin villaticum "farmstead" (with outbuildings), a noun use of the neuter singular of villaticus "having to do with a farmstead or villa."

Less obvious is villain, which meant "base or low-born rustic" when it got into English around 1300. The source, via Old French, is Medieval Latin villanus "farmhand," from villa. The sense evolution, as summarized by etymologist Ernest Klein, is "inhabitant of a farm; peasant; churl, boor; clown; miser; knave, scoundrel."

Less obvious still are some of the other descendants of Greek oikos that still crop up in English. Such as ecology (coined in German by zoologist Ernst Haeckel, taking Greek oikos in its broadest sense, as "habitation").

It also figures in Church words, such as ecumenical, formed in 16th century English from Greek oikoumenikos, from the phrase he oikoumene ge "the inhabited world (as known to the ancient Greeks); the Greeks and their neighbors considered as developed human society." This comes from oikoumenos, the present passive participle of oikein "to inhabit," from oikos.

And in diocese, from Late Latin diocesis "a governor's jurisdiction," later, "a bishop's jurisdiction," from Greek diokesis "province," originally "economy, housekeeping." This reflects both the elevation of the Greek word from household to governmental responsibilities, and its adoption by the Church. The first element is dia-, here meaning "thoroughly."

Another one is parish, from Old French paroisse, from Late Latin parochia "a diocese," an alteration of Late Greek paroikia "a diocese or parish," from paroikos, which in classical Greek meant "neighbor." It is a compound of para- "near" and oikos "house." The sense development here is not exactly clear, but early Christians adopted paroikos in the sense of "sojourner" as epithet for spiritual sojourners in the material world.

Parish as an import word replaced Anglo-Saxon preostscyr, literally "priest-shire."

The back half of economy is nomos "custom, law, usage," which comes from the Proto-Indo-European base *nem- "to divide, distribute, to allot, to take." This has far fewer relatives in English than the front half does, though in German it provides the everyday verb for "to take" (nehmen).

One is Nemesis, the name of the Greek goddess of vengeance, whose name is related to the verb nemein "to distribute, to allot, to apportion one's due." Another is numismatics "the study of coins," a modern word (coined in French in the late 18th century) based on Greek nomisma "current coin," literally "what has been sanctioned by custom or usage," from nomizein "have in use, adopt a custom."