Friday, January 22, 2010

Word Wonder -- kind

Friday, January 22, 2010

1. Gentle and considerate in behavior; goodhearted; benign. Archaic affectionate; loving. 4. Obsolete Natural; appropriate; lawful.  [from the Old English word gecynde]

1. A class or grouping; type; variety. 2. The distinguishing nature or character of something. 3. Obsolete Nature in general; the ordained and proper order of things. [from the Old English word gecynd]
- Funk & Wagnalls Canadian College Dictionary

The word "kind" and its many relatives came from the Old English words gecynde and gecynd, two virtually identical descendants of the ancient Indo-European root, genə-. The root "genə-" means "to give birth or to beget." Many of the words that derive from this root have to do with procreation and with family and tribal groups: gender, general, generate, generic, genesis, genital, genius, genre, gentle, genuine, genus, germ, germinate, ingenious, innate, kin, king, natal, nation, native, nature, nee, noel, pregnant. Quite a list!
- Dictionary of the English Language

Notice that the dictionary entries above give several archaic and obsolete uses of the word "kind": affectionate, loving, natural, appropriate, lawful, nature in general, and the ordained and proper order of things. These older uses of the word provide a bridge from our modern understanding of "kind" back to the original meanings having to do with procreation, family, and the tribe.

This investigation of the word "kind" took me much deeper than just the academic examination of words and roots. It engendered images in my mind of ancient people living together in their family and tribal groups. Doing my best to go beyond sentiment and the visuals portrayed in Hollywood movies, I probed within myself for the feelings and facts of everyday life back then -- the requirement that families stick together and that tribes grow stronger by having children and staying close to kin who could be relied upon to protect and nurture. The root, genə-, implies that people have always seen the need for not only physical survival but emotional connection, as well.

They would have seen animals caring for their young. They would have witnessed birth, death, and regeneration and would have known they were part of it all. Genə- would have been a basic concept of everyday life. And so their languages, which developed out of everyday life, also shaped everyday life. Today we are the same-- part of birth and death cycles, shaping language and daily activities to meet our needs and the needs of those around us.

Most people value being part of a group, whether it's their family, a club or church, or a larger community or culture. Yet many, many people do not feel they belong anywhere. Whether we face our "own kind," whatever that means to each of us, or we face "others," we can choose to see the connections of genə-, of begetting and being kind and gentle, of the natural order of our connection to one another.

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