Monday, July 05, 2010

All pieces of the same puzzle

Recently, Judi and I had a friendly debate over the meaning of the word whore. No, it's not what you think: The word came up in a magazine article about a television character, and the discussion centered around whether remuneration has to be required, or whether simple licentiousness is enough. When I got home I decided to look it up in the dictionary, and that's when I found this fascinating etymology in the American Heritage Dictionary:

Whore has been traced all the way back to the original Indo-European root, karo, meaning "to like" or "desire." From this, the early Germanic languages derived a word, horaz (how the "ka" sound became the "ho" sound is something I'm sure etymologists understand), meaning "one who desires," with a specific sense of "adulterer." From this, in turn, we derived our Modern English word.

But wait! There's more: The same Indo-European root, karo, passed into the Latin branch of languages as carus, meaning "dear." From this we have borrowed ("borrowed" is the verb etymologists use for "loan words," as if we have to return them someday, perhaps with interest)... but, as I started to say, we have borrowed into Modern English care, cherish, caress, and, the ultimate in selfless love, charity. So the words whore and cherish come from the same root.

But wait! There's more: The same Indo-European root passed into the Sanskrit branch of languages as kama, meaning "love," with a particular sense of the physical expressions of love -- not just sex, but also kissing, caressing, and hugging -- and we are familiar with this word in Modern English due to its presence in the title of a famous, ancient work, the Kama Sutra.

At first, what fascinated me was simply the many words with different, seemingly conflicting meanings that have derived from this simple root. But then, the more I thought about it, the more the words fit together. Because, when you love someone, one of the feelings you have towards that person is ravenous lust... in the sense of whore? You also cherish that person above all else, and care about him or her even above your own welfare. And again, although you lust for physical love, you also find fulfillment in kissing, hugging, caressing, and loving sex.

So it seems, to me anyway, that this word karo, from our ancient mother-tongue, has traveled through time and through different daughter-languages to converge in our language today as a set of words that, collectively, describe some of the many facets of that complex feeling we call love. How fitting is that?

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