Category Archives: Etymology

Sincere, genuine, authentic

sincere (adj.) — 1530s, “pure, unmixed, unadulterated;” also “free from pretense or falsehood,” from French sincere (16c.), from Latin sincerus, of things, “whole, clean, pure, uninjured, unmixed,” figuratively “sound, genuine, pure, true, candid, truthful” (unadulterated by deceit)

genuine (adj.) — “natural, not acquired,” from Latin genuinus “native, natural, innate,” from root of gignere “to beget, produce”

authentic (adj.) — “authoritative, duly authorized” (a sense now obsolete), from Old French autentique “authentic; canonical” (13c., Modern French authentique) and directly from Medieval Latin authenticus, from Greek authentikos “original, genuine, principal,” from authentes “one acting on one’s own authority,” from autos “self” (see auto-) + hentes “doer, being”

Defining eversals

Two common words I use in a very precise, but unusual sense, are apprehension and surprise. What I mean by them is clearer when they are defined against their opposites.

I define apprehension against comprehension. Where comprehension provides a convex form around which one can cognitively grasp (com- “together” + -prehend “hold”) a concept (con- “together” + -cept “together”), apprehension defies grasp (ap- “toward” + -prehend “hold” despite the fact that cognition can feel the reality of what remains ungraspable. It is analogous to touching the inner surface of a concave surface with one’s fingertips, feeling for nonexistent edges around which one can secure a grip. Apprehending but not comprehending makes us aware of a boundary between comprehensibility and (as yet) incomprehensible reality, and this awareness induces apprehension, anxiety in the face of an inconceivable beyond. The relationship is that of eversion, of flipping inside out. Apprehension is everted comprehension.

I define surprise against comprise. When we comprehend something objectively the contents of the comprehension is all the beliefs the understanding comprises (and if you are a pragmatist, all the implications of these beliefs). (“-prise” and “-prehend” are both forms of the same Latin root, “-prehendere, “to hold”.) Surprise is that which is not comprehended which surrounds the comprehension with what was not grasped, due to its being beyond or over what is held, (sur- “beyond”/”over” + -prise “hold”), and which therefore is in a position to irrupt into what was comprehended and potentially to disrupt it. Here, also, is a relationship of eversion. It resembles the old “Russian reversal” joke: in Soviet Russia surprise comprises you.

Both of these words reflect a basic topological structure of my conceptions of subjectivity and objectivity. That is, they are eversions of one another. Every subjectivity comprises an objectivity derived from its interactions with its environing reality. But on the other side of these interactions, transcendent to its subjectivity and objectivity is a fellow subjectivity with an objectivity of its own which will both harmonize with and clash against the objectivity of other subjectivities. To make matters more complex, to the degree subjectivities manage to harmonize and share objectivity they form new, more expansive subjectivities. I participates within a transcendent We, without experiencing the kind of apprehension or surprise that signals transcendent otherness, radical alterity.

Without this subjective-objective topology, my ideas can only be partially comprehended — and largely only apprehended.

I think my next book will need to be another chapbook, I’ve been calling “the pearl book”. It might also be called Everso, every possible pun intended.

Fake etymologies

In Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, Rorty repeatedly busts Heidegger for inventing fake etymologies. The accusation extends beyond the incorrectness of the claims — the very impulse to excavate more primordial and immediate meanings is impugned.

This is fascinating to me because I wholeheartedly share Heidegger’s love of etymologies, and Heidegger is a nasty enough son-of-a-bitch that if I agree with him on anything, I feel a strong need to lab-test, analyze and inspect that agreement very closely.

Of course, as I’ve said many times over the years, it only takes a trace of poison to turn something wholesome lethal, so I am unwilling to reject everything an evil genius says, just because it was said by an evil genius. In fact, that wholesale impulse is one of the more toxic substances I see in the poisoned minds around me. But that doesn’t mean I’m ingesting anything Heidegger says casually.

(If you can’t tell, I understand evil to be a function of one’s philosophy. I see evil as a kind of philosophical disease, not as an essential characteristic of any soul. Evil is curable. The treatment is metanoia. Metanoia, like many treatments, tastes nasty on the tongue. But so do many toxins, so how do we discern?)

For the record, I see the toxicity of Heidegger primarily in his hubristic concept of the They, which obligated him to despise everyone but his own hand-selected authorities. I ate this poison years ago, and it caused me some very serious and pleasurable problems, before I managed to expel it.

I’m also worried about another idea, espoused in both Heidegger and fellow Nazi and mystic, Eugen Herrigel, author of Zen in the Art of Archery, one that is even more important to me than etymologophelia, the ideal of tacit use and ontic fusion (my term) with equipment and environment. Heidegger called it ready-to-hand, and argued that this tacit ready-to-hand being, where a tool, such as a hammer, and a whole working environment, such as a workshop, becomes an organic extension of one’s own activity and one’s own being (as opposed to discrete objects which stand apart from us present-at-hand, which is an exceptional state caused by malfunction or a conscious effort to observe. This idea of ontic fusion is both profoundly important to me as a designer and a prime suspect in my ongoing investigation of totalitarian ideologies. My suspicion is that this desire to fuse with our worlds easily metastasizes into a desire to take ourselves — the bundle of intuitions that constitute our soul — into the soul of the world itself.

Is there a way to wordlessly fuse with our own world, while maintaining a pluralistic attitude toward reality, and especially toward those ornery bits of the world we call our neighbors? That’s one of the core problems in my next book.


I had a eureka moment earlier today. I should use the word “apprehension” instead of angst, anxiety or perplexity. The word is etymologically perfect, derived from from ad- towards + prehendere lay hold of. It is what we feel prior to comprehension, com- together + prehendere lay hold of. It is what we experience before we can say “hence…” and well before the idea is ready to hand. (Sadly, “hence”is less etymologically cooperative, having nothing at all to do with –hendere. And the word “hand” also refuses to play the -hendere game I want it to.) Then I thought “huh, that was too easy. Is this something I thought before — maybe even recently? I need to put these idea out before my memory is completely gone.

I do sort of want to write a chapbook called Apprehension now, though. I also need to do one called Eversion. I need a damn printing press.

Mutual mutation

Mutual, mutable, mutate and mutant are all derived from the same Latin root, mutare, to change.

Mutual comes from Middle French mutuel, from Latin mutuus — lent, borrowed. Mutable, from Middle English, from Latin mutabilis.

Why should anyone care about this etymological bit of trivia? For me, the profoundest value of entering a relationship of mutuality — of that sacred acknowledgment of thou, of namaste, of the gassho gesture — is its transformative power, which is the most powerful demonstration that otherness is transcendent, real, relevant and radically surprising.

Speaking of etymologies, surprise has a surprising etymology: sur, super + prise, take, derived from prendre. Prendre is also the root of comprise and comprehend, to together-take. Surprise is the eversion (the flipping inside-out) of comprise — to be taken by what is super, beyond, above.

To remain alert to what always transcends any particular comprehension is a kind of everted comprehension that complements every comprehension with expectation of potentially disruptive always-more — I want to call that suprehension.

Comprise : surprise :: comprehend : suprehend

Suprehension is a vectoral state of awareness toward a permanent possibility of radical shock, a something that will change everything, which is the prize of mutuality.

Suprehension is fallibilism, but intensified, charged with positive value and religious significance.

Suprehension is knowledge placed in the context of infinity as qualitative fact.

(Infinity as qualitative fact means infinity produces novel categories that have never before produced instances. And only instances of categories are countable.)


Several years ago, I did an etymology post on specere words. Here is Part Two, another species of seeing/envisioning words, a branch derived from videre.

Vision – ORIGIN Middle English (denoting a supernatural apparition): via Old French from Latin visio(n-), from videre ‘to see.’

Visual – ORIGIN late Middle English (originally describing a beam imagined to proceed from the eye and make vision possible): from late Latin visualis, from Latin visus ‘sight,’ from videre ‘to see.’

Advise – ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French aviser, based on Latin ad– ‘to’ + visere, frequentative of videre ‘to see.’ The original senses included ‘look at’ and ‘consider,’ hence ‘consider jointly, consult with others.’

Wisdom – ORIGIN Old English wis, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch wijs and German weise, also to wit

Wit – ORIGIN Old English witan, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch weten and German wissen, from an Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit veda ‘knowledge’ and Latin videre ‘see.’



Announcing an exciting new vocabulary acquisition: evert. I have needed this word many times, but had to resort to flipping, reversing, inverting, turning… inside-out.

Evert – verb [ with obj. ]
Turn (a structure or organ) outward or inside out: (as adj. everted) : the characteristic facial appearance of full, often everted lips.
eversible – adjective.
eversion –  noun
ORIGIN mid 16th cent. (in the sense ‘upset, overthrow’): from Latin evertere, from e- (variant of ex-) ‘out’ + vertere ‘to turn.’

Now I can say things like:

  • Everything in the world is the world everted.
  • A comedy is an everted tragedy. A tragedy is an everted comedy.
  • A pearl is an everted oyster shell. An oyster coats the ocean with mother-of-pearl. Outside the shell is ocean, inside the pearl is ocean. Between inner-shell and outer-pearl is slimy oyster-flesh, which ceaselessly coats everything it isn’t with mother-of-pearl. It is as if the flesh cannot stand anything that does not have a smooth, continuous and lustrous surface. We could call the flesh’s Other — that which requires coating — “father-of-pearl”.
  • Imagine Pandora’s box as a pearl everting to an all-ensconcing shell as Pandora opened it, and Eden as an all-ensconcing shell everted to a pearl upon Adam’s eviction.
  • An object is an everted subject.


Intersubjectivity is conducted through the medium of things.


I and You runs a circuit through It.

Are things otherwise?: I is short-circuiting, again.

An indicator of a closed circuit: intense heat.


Circuit – ORIGIN late Middle English: via Old French from Latin circuitus, from circuire, variant of circumire ‘go around,’ from circum ‘around’ + ire ‘go.’

(It is interesting to think of the circuit as primarily the movement, not the substance that enables the movement.)


Laurie Anderson’s “Closed Circuit”


Design rhapsody

To design — to “de-” apart + “-sign” t0 seal or mark…

— to set a thing apart and and assign it a significance…

— to define the boundaries of some reality, to extract it from the surrounding chaos and to let its reality stand in the foreground against a background, and to let it be for itself and for us…

— to separate parts within a whole, give them joints, in such a way that a sequential encounter of part-by-part allows the whole to emerge spontaneously like the meaning of a sentence emerges word-by-word without need of grammatical analysis — that is, to articulate in every sense of the word…

— to invite things to participate in human life, to embrace their inhumanity by allowing them to speak in the conversation of craft, to learn the full truth of their existence so they collaborate with us to embody a significance…

— to designify, assign designificance, apart and special.

It is good to design, and this is a good time to be a designer.


Gives me pause

This post poses a question regarding the relationship between posing and positing. It is interesting to me that we pose questions, but posit assertions. Situations can pose problems. We keep people posted on what is happening, particularly about these problematic situations.

It appears that this family of words revolves around two centers of gravity, split from an original root, “ponere“, translated as ‘to place’ or ‘to show off.’ pausare ‘to pause’ and Latin positura ‘position,’ from posit– ‘placed’, almost a complementary negative/positive pair, with pausare being a momentary cessation of movement — a stop-motion or freeze-frame for catching a whirling problem in the act of being problematic — and positura being a positive movement of putting a thing forth.


An eymological exposition of ponere words:

Pose – ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French poser (verb), from late Latin pausare ‘to pause,’ which replaced Latin ponere ‘to show off.’ The noun dates from the early 19th cent.

Posit – ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Latin posit– ‘placed,’ from the verb ponere.

Position – ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French, from Latin positio(n-), from ponere ‘to place.’ The current sense of the verb dates from the early 19th cent.

Posture – ORIGIN late 16th cent. (denoting the relative position of one thing to another): from French, from Italian postura, from Latin positura ‘position,’ from posit– ‘placed,’ from the verb ponere .

Suppose – ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French supposer, from Latin supponere (from sub– ‘from below’ + ponere ‘to place’), but influenced by Latin suppositus ‘set under’ and Old French poser ‘to place.’

Impose – ORIGIN late 15th cent. (in the sense ‘impute’): from French imposer, from Latin imponere ‘inflict, deceive’ (from in– ‘in, upon’ + ponere ‘put’), but influenced by impositus ‘inflicted’ and Old French poser ‘to place.’

Expose – ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French exposer, from Latin exponere (see expound), but influenced by Latin expositus ‘put or set out’ and Old French poser ‘to place.’

Repose – ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French repos (noun), reposer (verb), from late Latin repausare, from re– (expressing intensive force) + pausare ‘to pause.’

Positive – ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French positif, –ive or Latin positivus, from posit– ‘placed,’ from the verb ponere. The original sense referred to laws as being formally ‘laid down,’ which gave rise to the sense ‘explicitly laid down and admitting no question,’ hence ‘very sure, convinced.’

Challenges vs. problems

Examining the etymologies of the words, it is strange that we use the word “challenge” as a euphemism for “problem”.

Challenge: ORIGIN Middle English (in the senses ‘accusation’ and ‘accuse’): from Old French chalenge (noun), chalenger (verb), from Latin calumnia ‘calumny,’ calumniari ‘calumniate.’

Problem: ORIGIN late Middle English (originally denoting a riddle or a question for academic discussion): from Old French probleme, via Latin from Greek probl?ma, from proballein ‘put forth,’ from pro ‘before’ + ballein ‘to throw.’

Canny vs uncanny

Uncanny – 1590s, “mischievous;” 1773 in the sense of “associated with the supernatural,” originally Scottish and northern English, from un– (1) “not” + canny.

Canny – 1630s, Scottish and northern England formation from can (v.) in its sense of “know how to;” lit. “knowing,” hence, “careful.” Often used superciliously of Scots by their southern neighbors, implying “thrift and an eye to the main chance.”

(From the Online Etymology Dictionary.)

The Oxford dictionary defines canny as “having or showing shrewdness and good judgment, especially in money or business matters” and Scottish & Northern English “pleasant; nice: ‘she’s a canny lass.'”


I nominate uncanny/canny for the office of Most Fundamental Ontological Category. The canny represents the principle of savvy niceness; the uncanny, occult weirdness.


Centripetalcentripetus, from Latin centrum (see center) + –petus ‘seeking’ (from petere ‘seek’).

Centrifugalcentrifugus, from Latin centrum (see center) + –fugus ‘fleeing’ (from fugere ‘flee’).

Center – from Latin centrum, , from Greek kentron ‘sharp point, stationary point of a pair of compasses,’ related to kentein ‘to prick.’



Special – ORIGIN Middle English: shortening of Old French especial ‘especial’ or Latin specialis, from species ‘appearance’; literally ‘appearance, form, beauty,’ from specere ‘to look.’

Respect – ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin respectus, from the verb respicere ‘look back at, regard,’ from re– ‘back’ + specere ‘look at.’

Inspect – ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Latin inspect– ‘looked into, examined,’ from the verb inspicere (from in- ‘in’ + specere ‘look at’), or from its frequentative, inspectare.

Circumspect – ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin circumspectus, from circumspicere ‘look around,’ from circum ‘around, about’ + specere ‘look.’

Suspect – ORIGIN Middle English (originally as an adjective): from Latin suspectus ‘mistrusted,’ past participle of suspicere, from sub- ‘from below’ + specere ‘to look.’

Despise – ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French despire, from Latin despicere, from de– ‘down’ + specere ‘look at.’

Continue reading Specere

Author etymologies

Actor – ORIGIN late Middle English (originally denoting an agent or administrator): from Latin, ‘doer, actor,’ from agere ‘do, act.’ The theater sense dates from the 16th cent.

Author – ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense ‘a person who invents or causes something’): from Old French autor, from Latin auctor, from augere ‘increase, originate, promote.’ The spelling with th arose in the 15th cent., and perhaps became established under the influence of authentic.

Authentic – ORIGIN late Middle English: via Old French from late Latin authenticus, from Greek authentikos ‘principal, genuine.’

Authority – ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French autorite, from Latin auctoritas, from auctor ‘originator, promoter.’

Then there’s the word augur. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

…augur, a religious official in ancient Rome who foretold events by interpreting omens, perhaps originally meaning “an increase in crops enacted in ritual,” in which case it probably is from Old L. augos (gen. augeris) “increase,” and is related to augere “increase” (see augment). The more popular theory is that it is from L. avis “bird,” since the flights, singing, and feeding of birds, along with entrails from bird sacrifices, were important objects of divination (cf. auspicious). In that case, the second element would be from garrire “to talk.” The verb is c.1600, from the noun.



Intuitions and insights

Intuit: from the Latin verb intueri, from in- ‘upon’ + tueri ‘to look.’

“In-” = upon? Does that mean intuition is a synoptic sense? A superficial grok of a whole?

A question: What is the precise relationship between an intuition and an insight? Are either of these words precise enough for such a comparison?


Jung primed me for this question: he distinguished between an introverted intuition and an extraverted intuition.


Thoughts on double meanings

I’m thinking out loud here, so please forgive the tedium and unclarity. I’m also traveling, and that always messes me up pretty seriously. Just to get these thoughts out, I’m saying what comes to mind and not worrying excessively over how much sense I’m making much less how persuasive I’m being. So there’s even less reason to read this post than there usually is, so I encourage my nonexistent readership to ignore this post with redoubled nonawareness of its existence.

I just finished Ricoeur’s essay “The Problem of Double Meaning” from Conflict of Interpretations and this is my attempt to digest the material. Here is (in slightly streamlined form) the conclusion of the essay:

It seems to me that the conquest of this deliberately and radically analytic level allows us to better understand the relations between the three strategic levels which we have successively occupied. We worked first as exegetes with vast units of discourse, with texts, then as lexical semanticians with the meaning of words, i.e., with names, and then as structural semanticians with semic constellations. Our change of level has not been in vain; it marks an increase in rigor and, if I may say so, in scientific method. … It would be false to say that we have eliminated symbolism; rather, it has ceased to be an enigma, a fascinating and possibly mystifying reality, to the extent that it invites a twofold explanation. It is first of all situated in relation to multiple meaning, which is a question of lexemes and thus of language. In this respect, symbolism in itself possesses nothing remarkable; all words used in ordinary language have more than one meaning. … Thus the illusion that the symbol must be an enigma at the level of words vanishes; instead, the possibility of symbolism is rooted in a function common to all words, in a universal function of language, namely, the ability of lexemes to develop contextual variations. But symbolism is related to discourse in another way as well: it is in discourse and nowhere else that equivocalness exists. Discourse thus constitutes a particular meaning effect: planned ambiguity is the work of certain contexts and, we can now say, of texts, which construct a certain isotopy in order to suggest another isotopy. The transfer of meaning, the metaphor (in the etymological sense of the word), appears again, but this time as a change of isotopy, as the play of multiple, concurrent, superimposed isotopies. [See comment 1 below] The notion of isotopy has thus allowed us to assign the place of metaphor in language with greater precision than (lid the notion of the axis of substitutions…

But then, I ask you, does the philosopher not find his stake in the question at the end of this journey? Can he not legitimately ask why in certain cases discourse cultivates ambiguity? The philosopher’s question can be made more precise: ambiguity, to do what? Or rather, to say what? [See comment 2 below] We are brought back to the essential point here: the closed state of the linguistic universe. To the extent that we delved into the density of language, moved away from its level of manifestation, and progressed toward sublexical units of meaning — to this very extent we realized the closed state of language. [See comment 3 below] The units of meaning elicited by structural analysis signify nothing; they are only combinatory possibilities. They say nothing; they conjoin and disjoin.

There are, then, two ways of accounting for symbolism: by means of what constitutes it and by means of what it attempts to say. What constitutes it demands a structural analysis, and this structural analysis dissipates the “marvel” of symbolism. That is its function and, I would venture to say, its mission; symbolism works with the resources of all language, which in themselves have no mystery.

As for what symbolism attempts to say, this cannot be taught by a structural linguistics; in the coming and going between analysis and synthesis, the going is not the same as the coming. On the return path a problematic emerges which analysis has progressively eliminated. Ruyer has termed it “expressivity,” not in the sense of expressing emotion, that is, in the sense in which the speaker expresses himself, but in the sense in which language expresses something, says something. The emergence of expressivity is conveyed by the heterogeneity between the level of discourse, or level of manifestation, and the level of language, or level of immanence, which alone is accessible to analysis. Lexemes do not exist only for the analysis of semic constellations but also for the synthesis of units of meaning which are understood immediately. [See comment 4 below]

It is perhaps the emergence of expressivity which constitutes the marvel of language. Greimas puts it very well: “There is perhaps a mystery of language, and this is a question for philosophy; there is no mystery in language.” [See comment 5 below.] I think we too can say that there is no mystery in language; the most poetic, the most “sacred,” symbolism works with the same semic variables as the most banal word in the dictionary. But there is a mystery of language, namely, that language speaks, says something, says something about being. If there is an enigma of symbolism, it resides wholly on the level of manifestation, where the equivocalness of being is spoken in the equivocalness of discourse.

Is not philosophy’s task then to ceaselessly reopen, toward the being which is expressed, this discourse which linguistics, due to its method, never ceases to confine within the closed universe of signs and within the purely internal play of their mutual relations?



  1. This accounts for why many Nietzsche scholars miss Nietzsche’s most interesting philosophizing. They discover a single isotopy, which works at the sea-level level of explicit assertions, and they fail to notice the layers of isotopy beneath the argumentation, despite numerous explicit assertions that these levels do exist and ought to be sought.
  2. This is a fascinating question, and it connects directly with why I began to study hermeneutics. I didn’t know how to think about the kind of truth experienced through understanding of symbols.

    The understanding of symbolic works depends entirely on a reader’s ability to recognize in a symbolic form an analogous form which is indicated obliquely. The reasons for oblique indication are numerous, but the most compelling reason is sheer impossibility of direct expression, which means they refer to what we call radically subjective experience. The subjective experiences I’ve encountered are sometimes unprecedented emotional states, a sense of concealed possibility, novel intellectual “moves” (dance imagery is frequently used), and metaphysical noumena of various kinds (which I am reducing to “experiences of”, or what a friend of mine calls “exophany”, but in the spirit of phenomenological method, which means to defy reductionism: I find disbelief and comprehension of metaphysical reality equally impossible.).

    The effectiveness of radically subjective symbols presupposes the existence of subjective experiences the symbols indicate. A peculiarity of many of these experiences is their utter ephemerality. It appears they are remembered very differently from objective facts, over which we have a higher degree of command, and therefore can prefer to such a degree that we wish to deny the existence of anything but objectivity. A fact or image can be summoned from memory at will like a servant who is normally obedient. But a mood or insight or spirit has a mind of its own, and must be recalled in an almost petitionary attitude: we recollect images and facts and try to create conditions upon which the experience can (to use Octavo Paz’s word) condense, almost as if they are offerings or a home made hospitable for a guest. I think this is actually the importance of prayer. We recall a forgotten spirit, in the hope we will be inhabited once again, and that once present, we will not be abandoned.

    Other double meanings (which I prefer not to call symbols) indicate things that could be very easily expressed in objective language, but which are socially prohibited. The reason “that’s what she said” works so well is because of the legacy of sexual taboo, where all the objects and activities associated with sex were veiled in innuendo. Puns are similar; it is the exercise of the facilities involved in symbolization, but connecting banalities. This is the core problem of very clever people: their activities fail to deliver insights, and are performed only to demonstrate skill.

  3. More and more, this is the difference I see between science and philosophy. Science works within a fixed horizon, analyzing and synthesizing within a framework that is presupposed and not treated as problematic, because it is simply taken as reality itself. This does not only apply to scientific paradigms, but to the metaphysic of science itself which appears in most cases to be entirely innocent. Philosophy, however, concerns itself with the horizons, and attempts to transcend their limits, a process which takes place within the very limits to be transcended.

    It is also ethically significant that philosophy attempts to move outside the closed circle of language. More and more, my own conception of evil is bound up with the refusal to acknowledge being beyond one’s own conceptions of reality. One limits reality to that which one is capable of intellectually mastering, which is objective knowledge as framed by one’s own subjective perspective and which excludes the possibility of subjectivities, particularly super-individual forms of subjectivity that threaten to expose individual intellect as an organ of greater scales of intellect, which include at minimum family, culture and language. Evil is rooted in the attempt to make the mind a place of its own, far from that which challenges its absolute sovereignty over its private universe.

  4. This reminds me a lot of a diagram I used to draw to show the relationship between synthesis and concept. Synthesis means “put together”, and I classify systematization of wholes constituted of atomic elements as a type of synthesis. However, the synthesis reflects another order of reality which is concept, which means “take together”. I think this corresponds to a mememe — an indivisible unit of meaning which is spontaneously grasped as a whole, or gestalt (or to say it in nerd, the whole is “grokked”). It might make sense to see the activity of trying to understand as systematizing and resystematizing parts until they are arranged into a form that is recognized by the intuition as a concept, at which point the understanding occurs. I may need to return to this thought, because it really is relevant to design.
  5. I suspect the desire to locate mystery in the words themselves rather than in what the words indicate is one more manifestation of preference for objectivity. The words are fetishized as the locus of the mystery, which is a form of idolatry. Idol, after all is derived from the Greek word eidos ‘form, shape.’ The formula: the ground of reality of which we are made entirely, in which we always participate, but which surpasses us and moves us is impossible to think about in objective terms, and for this reason we reduce it to objective terms. To put it in the language of Martin Buber, the ground of reality is related to in terms of I-Thou, but we reduce it to terms of I-It. And other people, with whom we exist in relationship, as part of the ground — we prefer to relate to them also in terms of I-It — for exactly the same reason. We want to elevate ourselves above participatory relationship which involves and changes us, and instead to look at others across an insulating distance that promises to preserve us inert.


We can only know one another by turning together toward the world and sharing the significance of what we perceive as relevant. When we take turns discussing ourselves – when we make ourselves the object of conversation – our personas (objective “me”) eclipse our personalities (subjective “I”). The human mind prefers the discreteness of objects to the involvement of subjects.

Intersubjectivity requires interobjectivity — an objectivity that includes the recognition that objects are always to us perceived by subjects, and that subjects perceive differently.


Dialogue – Middle English : from Old French dialoge, via Latin from Greek dialogos, from dialegesthai ‘converse with,’ from dia ‘through’ + legein ‘speak.’

Converse – Late Middle English (in the sense of live among, be familiar with): from Old French converser, from Latin conversari ‘keep company (with),’ from con– ‘with’ + versare, frequentative of vertere ‘to turn.’


Glance – ORIGIN late Middle English, probably a nasalized form of obsolete glace in the same sense, from Old French glacier ‘to slip,’ from glace ‘ice,’ based on Latin glacies.

See – ORIGIN Old English seon, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch zien and German sehen, perhaps from an Indo-European root shared by Latin sequi ‘follow.’

Search – ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French cerchier (verb), from late Latin circare ‘go around,’ from Latin circus ‘circle.’

Research – ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from obsolete French recerche (noun), recercher (verb), from Old French re– (expressing intensive force) + cerchier ‘to search.’

Put, lost, found, taken

We find a joke funny. We find a concept compelling.

Sometimes, things are lost on us.


People laugh along with jokes they don’t get.

They know the definition of each word. They comprehend the sentences. Yet, they don’t get “it”.

Sometimes a person will explain her understanding of a joke, and you’re left wondering whether she’s ever experienced humor. If you explain what is funny about the joke, she might memorize and repeat your explanation without ever finding the joke funny.

She might be blind to the possibility that a joke is more than a social ritual. Laughing in the right place means one belongs.

If you’ve never gotten a joke, you cannot know what it is to have missed one.


People nod along with concepts they don’t get.

They know the definition of each word. They comprehend the sentences. Yet, they don’t get it.

Concepts are not thoughts, but something behind a thought that is “gotten” or “missed”.


If humor were as rare as love of concepts, people would openly sneer at comedy and call it “bullshit”. They’d call jokes pure fiction, and they would be mostly right.


It is perfectly possible to memorize and flawlessly reproduce dance steps but never dance. But when we dance we naturally perform the steps. Or rather, the dance itself dances the steps through us.

One can work out flawless systems without the guidance of an overarching concept. But working by concept naturally (eventually) produces systems. Or rather, the concept itself unfolds as a system through us.


Some people are so good at imitating the real thing that rationality cannot discern the difference, even if intuition can. But intuition cannot argue. It can only show.

Jokes, philosophies, designs, dances, songs, tastes, conversations… wherever there is letter and spirit, there will be those who know and those arguing that there is nothing to know but what is arguable.


A tough room makes even the best comedian doubt his powers.


Some related etymologies:

Conceive, concept, conception: ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French concevoir, from Latin concipere, from com– ‘together’ + capere ‘take.’

Receive, receptive, reception: ORIGIN Middle English : from Anglo-Norman French receivre, based on Latin recipere, from re- ‘back’ + capere ‘take.’

Perceive, perceptive, perception: ORIGIN Middle English : from a variant of Old French perçoivre, from Latin percipere ‘seize, understand,’ from per- ‘entirely’ + capere ‘take.’

Synthesis, synthesize: ORIGIN early 17th cent.: via Latin from Greek sunthesis, from sun- ‘together’ + tithenai ‘to place.’

Antithesis, antithetical: ORIGIN late Middle English: from late Latin, from Greek antitithenai ‘set against,’ from anti ‘against’ + tithenai ‘to place.’