Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Put Your Foot Down and Talk About Novelists

Once again, I 'umbly apologise for the lack of updating over the past week and a half. Sadly, this is the nature of coursework: it brings us all to our knees at some point. Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to rise above it, and to continue as normal. In this way, we march towards the misty dawn, hoping for a new post. What I'm trying to say is that I've found some interesting stuff, and I'd like you to read it.

Today's word is a common one. I'm certain you use it all the time, so there's little explaining to do in terms of its meaning. What I'm concerned with, however, are its roots. Often paraded as it may be, it's not well known where it came from. That's where I come in. Behold as we push away the cobwebs to find the history of...


I told you it was common. If I have to explain its meaning to you, I'm surprised you're able to even read this. Standard usage has come to have an "author" as an alternative word for a writer. That's no bad thing, but it has, and has had, other related meanings. Allow me to show you what I mean.

An "author" doesn't have to relate to a writer, and we still use it (although a little less often) in different ways. I could "author" a plan, or a design. In its simplest terms, the word "author" comes to look a lot more like a creator of anything. In fact, it's sometimes used to talk about THE Creator. The Big Cheese, the Man Upstairs - "Author" of the Universe.

If you look at the word for a minute or so, it's really not surprising that "author" and "authority" have the same root. Their relationship is a logical one: if the "author" is the creator of something, then the "authority" is the person or organisation maintaining it. If we start thinking in this sense, we can spread into verbs, you could "authorise" access to a vault, perhaps. If you're unlucky, the government of your country is "authoritarian". Play around with the sound a bit, and you'll find a bunch of new words.

Go on, give it a try. I can wait...

Now, if you've done this long enough, I bet you got pretty close to the word "authentic" at some point. Sounds similar, yes, but does it have the same origins? It half does, is my cheekily avoidant answer to my own question. Both "authentic" and "author" come from the Latin word "auctor" (I bet that came as a surprise...), but then they split. In the case of "authentic", there's a Greek word for original very similar to "auctor", and the two got confused and ultimately mixed together. "Authentic", then, comes from "authoritative" and "original", which is pretty much what it means. See, all language is a mess at the end of the day. Consider me the research equivalent of a dustpan and brush.

So "authentic" wandered off down its own path of adventurous change and muddling, whilst "auctor" was still in use. As can be expected, it bumped into another similar word, but this time it was a local friendly Latin one: "augere", which kind of sounds the same a bit to a Latin scholar. Now, "augere" means "to grow", and when combined with a word meaning "authority", you get the beginnings of our modern "author".

It's the meaning behind that root which attracted me to looking into "author". If you really want to "author" something properly, you can't just be controlling and demanding. It takes a lot of care, and you have to actually grow the thing, it can't be forced. I know it's not the most pulse pounding adventure of a history, but maybe it's given you a little insight into the backstory of writing and creation - you have to let the creation do its own thing.

And so I authored this post, but I let it take me where it wanted to go.


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