As to the Origin of the Site “In So Many Words”

The Yolk’s on You
Larry Paros about In So Many Words

This project has been informed and inspired by two scholars, Owen Barfield and Russell Lockhart. Barfield was a pioneer in the study of the history of language who believed that language preserved the inner living history of man’s soul, and that by studying it, we could see the unfolding and evolution of our consciousness. Lockhart provided the apt metaphor in Words as Eggs (1983), pointing towards content hidden beneath a shell which had to be shattered so that it might be fully revealed and made useful.

That shell he sought to crack was etymology. That is its logic. More than a principle of order or knowledge, logos (Greek for ‘word’) refers to the internal consistency of the message and the clarity of its claim. For Lockhart, “This becomes even more meaningful when we realize that etmos means “truth.” The logos of etmos is thus, “truth speaking.”

Both men encouraged us to move beyond the dry literal meaning of words; to dig more deeply; to excavate the information and images buried within, and to connect with the word’s interiority, i.e. its imagination. All one had to do was follow the connections that arose spontaneously through the release of images into consciousness, which were easily recognizable by their having brought pleasure.

Neither a linguistic scholar nor a student of psychology, I am simply a lover of words who serendipitously chanced upon these two scholarly works in which I found the scaffolding for my passion. It was comforting, however, to know I was not alone – operating in the same spirit as the credentialed Barfield and Lockhart — rejecting the utilitarian path for one guided by curiosity and pleasure.

Words and Me

Just Kidding Around

Larry Paros just kidding

When I was in 7th grade, we studied the names of all the sciences conveniently concluding in the suffix, “–logy.” The one definition which students found most difficult to retain was “etymology,” the science or study of word origins — invariably confusing it with “entomology,” the study of insects. For many of my colleagues, words were apparently just so many little black bugs meandering across a page.

I had a different relationship to language. Words were special to me, even as a child. Early on, I attributed magical qualities to them, believing that locked within were mysterious insights which could help guide me through life. What you are about to read is a work of etymology. Most simply, etymology deals with the roots of words; where they came from, and how and why they were invented. It asks, “Why are there so many different languages?” “And why do so many languages share the same or similar words for the same things?” We would go even further and deeper.

Special Note to Teachers and Students

Larry Paros Special Notes to teachers and students

The site and its ancillary pages are geared to word lovers everywhere, but they have special applicability in the schools. Through our comic book style and our overall approach, we hope to demonstrate how language can be entertaining, engaging, and interesting—an idea which may come as a surprise to many students.

It is specifically appropriate to upper level English classes as well as those on a college and university level; though a similar effort, years ago found a surprising audience for this approach also in the ESL community.

In addition to a new column thrice weekly, there is a full archive of past columns both in a fully illustrated mode and as straight text. Teachers can use the material in a variety of ways, from blocks for simple vocabulary building ( Latin and Greek roots are duly noted as well as spun-off words not covered directly in the column) to fodder for provocative discussion and thought about various aspects of the culture. Extras for teachers also include suggested topics for discussion and writing. This is in addition to tons of links to other language related sites. Use it all as freely as you like. Indulge. Enjoy!

Trick or Treat


Halloween is just around the corner. And you have only a ghost of a chance of avoiding this most heinous of celebrations. The mighty ghost may have fallen from his pedestal, but he is still deserving of our respect. So let’s pay him a brief tribute. At his height he was a gost, playing a variety of spiritual roles from angel to devil. A spelling error, however, by an English printer named William Caxton, came back to haunt us, making him into a ghost, which is how he entered the language around 1600. His decline began in 1613 when he became a shadow of his former self—a faint image, or a slight suggestion, as in a ghost of a chance.

His stature was further reduced as a ghost (writer) in 1922, diminishing his role to the hidden presence behind many a book, he having first ghosted or ghostwritten in the 1880s.

Throwing your hands up in despair? Totally surrendering to it all? We first gave up the ghost in Job 14:10 as the soul that departs the body when we die: “Man dieth, and wasteth away; yea man giveth up the ghost and where is he?” That was the King James Version. The bland Revised Standard Version of the Bible, however, rewrote the passage, excising the ghost altogther: “But man dies, and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he?

Where are we indeed, when the holiest of books rejects the spiritual? Giving up the ghost — ceasing to function, simply expiring—that’s where.

V for Virtue


Happy October 19, time for a special tribute to Annie Peck born this day in 1850—for having attained heights unknown. At age 45, she scaled the Matterhorn and in 1895 at age 61, climbed Mt. Coropuna in Peru (21,250 feet), planting a “Votes for women” banner at the summit.

These courageous feats of strength unfortunately can only be measured against those of a man. In Latin he was vir, “a male adult, ” making him virilis, “thus establishing his virility, or “masculine strength,” from Latin virilis, “manly.” Virtus was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome, carrying connotations of valor, excellence, courage, character, and worth. But coming as it does from Latin vir, “man, “it was perceived primarily as a masculine strength—a virtue frequently attributed to various Roman emperors. It came even to be personified as a deity—Virtus.

Moral excellence made a man virtuous. When applied to a woman, however, it simply left her “chaste.” The virile man continues to be celebrated for being full of vim. from the Latin for “force,” though misuse of that force has also helped create much of the violence in the world from violentus, “impetuous” or “boisterous,” leading to his violation of both laws and women, from violare, violatus, “to maltreat or dishonor.”

The word virago today describes a “noisy, domineering woman.” Better we return to Ancient Rome where she was “a heroic woman”, “a female warrior,” “strong and brave as a man,” A perfect description of an Annie Peck and so many other worthy, but unnoted women today.

Ban This


“Banned books week” was the last week in September. But the banners of books continue their work year round. Isn’t it time we asked, “Who gave them the power to determine what we should or should not read, or what ideas we may properly entertain?” Better yet, “Where did the idea of banning originate?”

The history of the word, “ban” goes back to Medieval times, when the Lord in power frequently issued edicts called bans the intent of which was to primarily conscript men for battle. All called were expected to comply. One shirking his duty was considered to have fallen outside the ban. This made for the French bannir, “to proclaim,” labeling him an outlaw, leading invariably to his banishment and making him into a bandit, from the Italian bandito.

Over time, the ban evolved from a proclamation to a prohibition. In our culture we primarily ban ideas. Books which are nothing more than a collection of ideas are often the subject of banning, thus making writers into outlaws of sorts.

The lord’s banal rights also gave him exclusive control of everything on his estate: the ovens, mills, storage facilities etc., and the right to decree who used them—conditions set forth in the bans. There were bans for everything, even for formal notice of intended marriage of those under his control, as when couples posted the banns. Covering so many situations, and issued with such frequency, the ban came to be considered commonplace or trite—yet another ban…ho-hum. This explains how those working to ban ideas and works of art today would merely substitute their own banal stuff in its stead.

Equally banal is the senseless bombardment of these words and their cheap exploitation. Knights once raised the flag of their sovereign lord in tribute to him. It was called a banner. The word is now considered a symbol of principles, making for banner headlines and banner years—proclaiming things “leading” or “foremost.” These are ironically also banner years for dirty words. Never before have they had it so good—especially with stand-up comedians and shows on cable.

What are we to do under this onslaught? The French gave us mettre à bandon, “to put under another’s control,” hence to give it up. Abandon the principle of freedom of expression to the self-styled lords of morality? Banish the thought. But let us also raise high the banner of taste and creative use of language for all words, bar none.

Right On!


Writing a daily column without a copy editor, leaves me open to accusations of not dotting my I’s and crossing my T’s — providing assurance that my work was accurate down to the very last detail—something which ain’t necessarily so.

It’s a degree of meticulousness which originated in 19th century classroom where schoolchildren were warned — you guessed it — of confusing their I’s with their T’s by carelessly writing them without their respective dots and crosses.

So it goes. If the truth be known, I’m also not always on the nose, something that originated in old time radio and the signal given by the producer to the on-air performer that the program was running according to schedule.

Those who find my efforts to actually be so, may also find them done to a turn (c.1780) — like meat being turned on a spit, until cooked to just the right degree.

They should then suit you to a T, the draftsman’s T, that is – a shaped ruler being used for accurate drawing of right angles. Or better yet, the T which was the first letter of the word “tittle,” a dot or a jot (late 17th C.).

Here in greater Seattle, they’re all that and more. Things are always in good order or in good health here. That’s because they’re as right as rain (c.1894). And rain is what it’s all about.

What is so right about the rain? You got me. Except for a pleasant alliterative ring, it doesn’t have much going for it, unless, of course, if you live here; in which case, rain is always 100% politically correct.

Whatever… just don’t rain on my parade.