Thursday, February 16, 2012

Understanding Substance

Understanding Substance

It occurred to me the other day that based on their word parts, substance & understand could almost be synonyms, or might at least work in concert to tell an interesting story. Doesn’t sub- mean under? Don’t stand & stance mean pretty much the same thing?

Understand comes from the Old English word, understandan. Stand means exactly what one might expect, to stand, but under in Old English meant something other than the under we Modern English speakers know today. Instead, it meant in the midst of. So to understand something is to stand in its midst. Understand takes up a page and a half in the Oxford English Dictionary with its fourteen shades of meaning.

Substance, on the other hand, comes from the Latin substare, literally, to stand firm. Interestingly, its primary meaning now is essential nature or essence. Substance takes about two full pages in the Oxford English Dictionary, Coincidentally, it also has fourteen shades of meaning.

Understand & substance aren’t synonyms at all, but together, they certainly inspire some pondering.

To understand something’s substance, one must stand in the midst of its essence. When we really want to grasp something, isn’t that exactly what we do? Don’t we surround ourselves as much as possible with whatever it is, then stand there, & breathe it all in?

Some of the substance I’m working on understanding this year includes (but isn’t limited to):

            -baking a loaf of bread with those nifty, sourdough-ish 
                holes in it,
            -audiobook narration & the fascinating & non-intuitive 
                software involved
            -improved methods of novel revision
            -career revision

Followers, what substance are you throwing yourself into the midst of? What essence has got your attention?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, & the OED.


  1. So to understand substance, we must stand in the midst of the Great All?

    I'm trying to understand the earthquake the publishing world is in the midst of, and figure out what to hang onto when nothing is solid.

  2. I am attempting to understand the substance of Social Media. Since I'm now launching my work on Kindle, it's imperative I stand in the midst of social media substance, much to both my dismay and my delight. It's a fun, frustrating, fertile and fiendish (at times) place to stand.

  3. Greetings Susan & Anne,
    Yes, Anne, we do find ourselves in the midst of the Great All, don't we? And I'm standing in the midst of that publishing earthquake right alongside you (well, maybe a few steps behind). Susan, I applaud you for standing in the Social Media midst and agree with all the fricatives you've applied to it.

  4. I love that understand means to stand in the midst of. Poetic and profound and I think where we would all like to be when we ponder our live's questions. Unfortunately, I think too many times we stand on the edge and peer into confusion. I vow to do more standing in the midst!

  5. Hey, Charlie, nice post, again.

    I like saying that word, substance. It sounds so full of meaning, and you proved it is.

    ~Learning the care of and milking of goats
    ~Researching and preparing for my first doe kidding
    ~Creating yogurt out of goat's milk.
    ~Submerging myself into my first ever writing of a devotional book

    Bless you, Charlie!

  6. Ahoy Christine & Jean Ann,
    There's no question there's a poeticism &a profundity to goats - I guess most things are if we're able to actually see them & appreciate them. And Christine, I'm with you when it comes to standing on the edge -- definitely one of my drawbacks. I decidedly need to get better at boldly wading into the midst.