Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Weird ideas and the word idea

Weird Ideas & the Word Idea

We fiction writers are regularly harangued with the question,

“Where do you get all those weird ideas?”

Instead, I’d like to counter with the question,

“Where do we get that word, idea?” 

One of idea’s oldest non-living relatives was the proto-Indo-European term wid-es-ya which comes from weid-, “to see.”  Over centuries, this oozed into the Greek word, idein, which continued to mean “to see.” About 400 BC, Plato introduced the ontological meaning of an “externally existing idea from which individual things derive their existence but are only imperfect copies.” By the late 1300s idea had made its way into English, and developed the lofty, somewhat metaphysical meaning, “an archetype of a thing in the mind of God.” Whoa.

When it comes to writing, all these shades of meaning seem to apply.

-Doesn’t a well-told tale help us see the world in a new light? -Does any draft ever reach a point above imperfection?
-Aren’t stories all about the true essence of things, more than what might have actually happened?
-And as for “…the mind of God,” many might argue that the writer plays a somewhat godlike role in his/her characters’ lives, while others might argue that the only true ideas come from the mind of God. 

So, where do you get all your weird ideas? Or for that matter, what are your thoughts on the word, idea?

Thanks to this week’s sources:, the OED, &


  1. I want to know where you get all that weird information going back to 400 BC. Or it that an English teacher’s secret?

    Nice post Charlie!

  2. This is so amazing. How could I have not known this? I studied Greek and read Plato, but never put this together. So an "idea" is really a Platonic "form". It is the real thing that exists in god-reality. Earthly beings can only see its shadow--or, as some scientists have hyphothesized recently--its hologram. So the idea is real; what we perceive is not. That's an amazing twist to get one's mind into so early in the AM.

  3. Charlie, another informative, great post. I like to learn from you!

    And my idea is that you will grow a large following of folks.

    Have a great week!

  4. I had no idea that the word idea was so young (1300 a.d.) In terms of where I get mine (ideas, that is)-- there's this little hidey hole in the roots of one of the palms in my garden where a battered, bitty box sits . . .

  5. Greetings Anne, Jean Ann, Dawn, & 818...
    I'm glad you're liking all this etymological hoohah. I'm having a good time with it.

    Dawn, I mostly find it in my 1982 Oxford English Dictionary, with help from online sources, the primary one being etymonline.

    Anne, I'm with you. I love the brain-tweaking concept that we're only seeing shadows of the Real Idea. It sure makes one intrigued by the shifting forms & piecing together of the shadows, doesn't it?

    Jean Ann, It would, indeed, be nice to gather a big heap of followers, but at this point I'm reveling in quality of followers over quantity.

    818... - I''m glad you're checking in & lubricating your thinking with these thoughts.