Etymology is fascinating. The origin of the F-word.
‘It comes from peig, a crawling, wicked Indo-European word meaning evil and hostile, the sure makings of a curse. It becomes poikos, then gafaihaz in Germanic and gefah in Old english, signifying foe. It turned from poikyos into faigjaz in Germanic and faege in Old English, meaning fated to die, leading to ‘fey.’ It went on from fehida in Old English to become ‘feud’, and fokken in Old Dutch which then became the word we know today in English. ( – fuck – my addition.)
‘Somehow from these beginnings,it transformed itself into one of the most powerful English expletives, meaning something like: ‘Die before your time.’’ from Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell – a collection of essays, not all about cells although he talks of language as something akin to an organism.
Given that there is a reason for everything one wonders if the word began to evolve through the language of soldiers who, particularly in the past and to perhaps lesser degrees today, made a habit of raping the women of their enemy, or taking them as whores and sex slaves. Given that in war many women were and are raped to death then the ‘fated to die’ aspect fits.
And the ‘evil’ and ‘hostile’ connotations were a perfect fit for the patriarchal misogyny which has poisoned the world for a few thousand years. No wonder this was and in some societies still is, a word used against women who were considered to be undeserving of respect, for whatever reason.
And perhaps there is also a link with the French term for orgasm: ‘Le Petit Mort,’ The Little Death. And sex and death are biologically related given that orgasm, identifiable in the case of men, is common at the moment of death.
There is more in words than we might think and perhaps more truth to the esoteric belief that words have energy and power which impacts even if we do not know it. When we ‘use’ a word we are ‘using’ all that word has meant and means whether we know it or not.
Which makes the origin of the word ‘doctor’ thought-provoking in terms of the power and energy at work in the word. As Lewis Thomas writes:
‘Leech’ is a fascinating word. it is an antique term for physician, and also for the aquatic worm sanguisugus, used for leeching. The two words appear to be quite separate, but there is something like biological mimicry going on: leech the doctor means the doctor who uses leech the worm; leech the worm is a symbol for the doctor. Leech the doctor comes from the Indo-European leg which means to collect, with numerous derivatives meaning to speak. Leg became Germanic lekjaz meaning one who speaks magic words, an enchanter, and also laece in Old English, meaning physician. (in Denmark the word for doctor is still laege, in Swedish, lakare.)
‘ Leg in its senses of gathering, choosing, and speaking gave rise to the Latin legere, and thus words like ‘lecture’ and ‘legible.’ In Greek, it became legein, meaning to gather and to speak; legal and legislator and other such words derived. Leg was further transformed in Greek, to logos, signifying reason.
‘ All this history seems both plausible and creditable, good reading for doctors, but there is always that other leech, the worm. It is not certain how it came. Somehow it began its descent through the language at the same time as leech the doctor, turning up both as laece and lyce in Old English, always recognizable as something distinctly the worm and at the same time important in medicine. It also took on the meaning of someone parasitic, living on the flesh of others. Gradually, perhaps under the influence of a Middle English AMA, the worm was given sole rights to the word and the doctor became the doctor, out of dek, meaning to accept, later to teach.’
So the ‘meanings’ within our word for doctor contains lecture, legible, speak, reason, parasite, magic, enchanter – all of which would seem to fit. Although the ‘energy’ of parasite, living on the flesh of others, has, metaphorically, become more of a reality with modern medicine where doctors in particular and the medical system in general make enormous amounts of money out of ‘the flesh’ of their patients.
And ‘legible’ strikes an ironic and perhaps symbolic chord given how illegible is the handwriting of so many doctors, so much so, that it has become something of a given that doctors will write in ways which will be hard to decipher. Perhaps that reflects the ‘magic’ and ‘enchanter’ aspect of the profession where doctors, like shamans and witch-doctors of the past and in some places now, use ‘placebo’ effects in form and word, in an attempt to heal.
They say we ‘forget our history at our peril’ but perhaps more perilous is our lack of knowledge and understanding of the meanings inherent in the words that we so casually use.