In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros

Being a Marked Person

In Ancient times, Greek and Roman artisans developed a special tool for stamping and marking. It was called a character. As the word entered the linguistic stream, moving from Old French into English, it came to stand for both the tool and the individual marks it produced, known to us, as its characteristics.

Medieval courts made frequent use of characters to brand convicted lawbreakers to indicate the nature of the crime characteristic of them — the one with which they were most closely identified. Favorites included "A" for "Adultery," "M" for "Murder," and "T" for "Thievery." A person so branded was marked for life, one glance at a person's character being sufficient evidence of what he was.

By the 16th century the word expanded to include the sum total of a person's moral qualities. It also narrowed its scope, leading us to speak glowingly of a person with character.

Stand proudly when you've been designated a person of character. It is, after all, the real thing. You'd think then that adding the designation "real," would lend it even greater authenticity. Calling something "real," ordinarily sets it apart from what's "fake." Being called a real character, however, simply sets you apart from others — as a loveable goofball of sorts.

That inconsistency, however, should not come as a surprise, for when it comes to human nature, its characteristic of how we think.