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, January 8, 2015

How we think

How we think

The words science, conscience, omniscient & many others having to do with thought, knowledge & internal understanding all come through French from the Latin word scire, to know. Most of these words have been with us since the 1300s- 1600s – a part of our collective consciousness.

What I find fascinating about these scire-derived words is how they reflect, or even constrict the ways we imagine what thought & internal understanding are. The Proto-Indo European root of scire was skei, which meant to separate one thing from another, to cut or divide. Skei also gave birth to schism, rescind, schizophrenic, & shed (as in bloodshed or the shedding of skin).

Does knowledge & understanding really involve disjointed, separate facts more than the relationships between those facts? What happened to the value of the bigger picture? Might our collective understanding of learning be weakened through devaluing larger patterns & non-linear processes, even spiritual pursuits?

Could basing our understanding of knowledge and conscience on separation, cutting & division be responsible for an over-reliance on the value of discrete facts, on multiple choice tests, specialists, philosophy, Jeopardy, a dwindling reverence for generalists, & the loss of what we used to call a well-rounded education?


Maybe I’m just an etymology-fascinated crackpot. Maybe this line of reasoning includes some shred of truth. Please leave a comment (& I won’t be offended at all if you think I’m a crackpot).

Big thanks to this week’s sources:  Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, & the OED.


  1. You've definitely hit on something here, Charlie. Especially true in education where we usually focus on bits and pieces to test knowledge and as you said multiple choice and true/false kinds of questions that only touch the bottom of Bloom's Taxonomy. Yep, I'm one of those dudes that spent most of my lectures trying to get the students to move up the ladder a bit and connect what they were learning with what they already knew. Lots of self reflection. Went over like a lead balloon at first but once the students got into it, they loved it. However, in another life as a Peace Corps volunteer the reigning philosophy of the sixties was a B.A. generalist could work miracles in a developing country. Not so true for someone who'd never seen a cow up close or had any knowledge of animal husbandry. What they really needed was someone who knew how to irrigate fields and care for livestock and not someone who could teach them how to spell those words. Think I've gone off track but you'll get my meaning. Sometimes being a separatist or specialist is a good thing. Wouldn't want to go to my GP for brain surgery. But then again, he's a lot more fun than some of the specialists I've met lately. Over and out. P.

  2. You're waxing philosophical here, Mr. Monger. You, too Paul!

    (Waxing in that sense must have an interesting history.It must mean to enlarge, like the moon.)

    Darkish philosophy at that. Maybe it's the time of year. I've been feeling it too. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold...I think somebody already said that :-) Maybe they aren't so much falling apart as being pulled apart? Separated. Is separation the same as knowledge? I hope not.

  3. Howdy Anne & Paul - thanks for popping by, & thanks for joining me in This Big Ponder. Paul, I absolutely agree that specialization has great value, but it may not be the greatest value.