If I haven’t mentioned it thousands of times before, I went to college to study writing. Both of my parents are writers, and I had big dreams of becoming the next Maxwell Perkins. Things worked out a little differently.
I haven’t lost my love for writing (she types in her blog), and I haven’t lost my love for language – all of it. Morphemes, phrases, clauses, tropes, schemes, diction. Nothing that I learned in college has proven to be useless; as a Salesforce consultant, I communicate a lot. Even were that not the case, I still enjoy it all.
For my senior seminar, we had to read The Professor and the Madman, which is a compelling tale about the history of the Oxford English Dictionary. Worth the read, even if you’re not big into that kind of thing. What set the OED apart from other dictionaries at the time was that it provided the spelling of words, the meaning, and the background of those words – when did it come into being? When did its meaning change, if ever? All fascinating things.
Taking that a step further, Bill Bryson wrote about the history of the English language in his book The Mother Tongue – another very good read, if you have the time (obviously you do, right?)
Words change over time, frequently because of changes in society. People start to use a word ironically or sarcastically, and the word changes. That’s the beauty and frustration of the English language.
It’s January now, and that means the time for resolutions. I read this blog post about New Years being a time to drop old commitments, rather than take on new ones, and it got me thinking about words. I thought about the word resolution, how it’s used to describe a way to solve a problem. Which made me consider the word resolve.
Resolve means to close an issue or come to conclusion, but it also means strength of will. Do you have resolve? How will we resolve this problem? I wondered how we, English speakers, came to the meaning.
Resolve entered the English language in the 14th century from the old French resolver or the Latin resolvere. The original meaning was to loosen or unyolk; it described freeing something or oneself, not shackling to something new. Through the typical indirect, winding way that this language tends to use, it came to be what it is now.
I haven’t made a real New Year’s resolution in years. It has always felt empty to me, like a silently understood and agreed upon thing in society – we all are meant to make resolutions, recognizing them as void contracts with ourselves. No one expects others to keep to their resolutions. I imagine the whole thing started with someone drunkenly proclaiming that this would be the year they changed things for themselves. Did that first resolution maker follow through?
So this idea of giving up something, rather than taking on more, led me to the etymology of the word resolve, and I find myself thinking that maybe all of this comes back full circle. What was old is now new again, right? It’s a common trope in literature, trying to recapture the glories of yesteryear.
This is where I make some grand statement amount refusing to make a resolution because of its emptiness, the void contract, instead proclaiming myself free of the burden. Eh. Why bother?
I have goals this year. 2016, while not my favorite year, was good to me professionally. I worked hard, and I reaped the benefits. I’m ready to do more. More certifications, more engagement, more…Salesforce, more Ohana.
But words can change. 100, 200…500 years from now, the words I use today might sound different, mean something else. But actions will always be the same. Helping someone, offering a hand, lending an ear – these things will never change the rewards, the sacrifice, the connection. So rather than shout to the rooftops or the servers about what I aim for this year, I will continue trying to do. To be.
Happy New Year