quote of the week: governor brown on etymology

In Latin, Brown said, “eco” means house. As an example, “economy” means “rules of the house.”  “Logos” means “lord, god, or the deep principles or patterns of nature.” So “ecology is more fundamental than economics. Economics sits within ecology. Not the other way around." 

— from an interview with California Governor Jerry Brown
in the American Society for Landscape Architects blog, "The Dirt"

We need more elected officials conversant in etymology. If you don't know what's going on inside your words, you can't predict what they'll do behind your back.

11 Responses to quote of the week: governor brown on etymology

  1. Linca November 28, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    It’d be even better if the governor didn’t confuse Latin with Greek, as Eco (Oikos) and Logos are Greek words, not Latin ones…

  2. FM November 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    Not only are all of these words Greek, not Latin, but also ‘nomos’ means ‘name’ and ‘logos’ means ‘word’, not any of those other things.

  3. Emily November 28, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    Logos represents many complex concepts in Greek (the definition usually takes up an entire page in most greek lexicons) and includes such meanings as word, thought, principle, persuasion, and reasoned discourse. The use of it to mean God I presume comes from one translation of the first line of the Gospel of John: “the word was God” but God is definitely not a common interpretation of the word logos.

  4. Morgan Wick November 28, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

    According to Wikipedia, the use of “logos” to mean “god” or “the principles of nature” is a result of various twists given the word by Platonic philosophers and later Christian theologians. A closer translation would be “logic”, and philosophers felt the world ran on logic.
    As a part of English words, the closest approximation would probably be “study”, so ecology is “study of the home”. So he’s still right, but for different, less profound reasons.

  5. AdamHerstein November 29, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    Logos means logic, not god.

  6. Mike O November 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    And “nomos” means “law” in Greek, not “name”.
    There are several troublesome pairs like this. “ped” means foot in Latin (pedestrian) but child in Greek (pediatrics). “pod” means foot in Greek (podiatry) but something totally different in English (pea pod, spaceship pod).
    “logos” is hard to translate. It’s something like “the meaning behind the words”. Calling it logic or study or the Word of God is too narrow, because it’s more than that. As another part of the Wikipedia article says, “logos had a semantic field extending beyond ‘word’ to notions such as language, talk, statement, speech, conversation, tale, story, prose, proposition, and principle; and also thought, reason, account, consideration, esteem, due relation, proportion, and analogy”. This is how logos sounds to Greeks. It’s like how “kardia” connotes “heart”, not “cardiac”.

  7. DF November 30, 2012 at 6:48 am #

    Some mostly unflattering comments at Language Log:

  8. PragmaticLRTsympathizer November 30, 2012 at 6:48 am #

    economics as study of the house is an archaic usage. in the 18th century (?) the term political economy arose, meaning study not of household management, but of govt policy – primarily related to govt finance. later the word political dropped out and we use economics to mean what originally was called political economy – and we have expanded it to include non-monetary costs and benefits. Its assumptions MAY not be appropriate for analysis of ecological issues, but you can’t show that from etymology.

  9. Ted K. December 1, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    As of 1 Dec. 2012 the quote is :

    In ancient Greek, Brown said “eco” means house. As an example, “economy” means “rules of the house.” “Logos” means “lord, god, or the deep principles or patterns of nature.” So ecologos or “ecology is the bigger house we all live in – the environment. It’s more fundamental than economics. Economics sits within ecology. Not the other way around.

    Gov. Brown’s apparent weirdness stems from his grafting Zen and a sort of social judo on to deep political roots (i.e. son of Gov. Pat Brown). Keep in mind that his educational background is Jesuit seminary / UCBerkeley / Yale Law (per WikiPedia*). And when he sounds crazy that’s when you should be checking the proverbial fox’s viewpoint.

  10. Richard February 22, 2013 at 2:18 am #

    Great quotes of William Feather “Here is the secret of inspiration: Tell yourself that thousands and tens of thousands of people, not very intelligent and certainly no more intelligent than the rest of us, have mastered problems as difficult as those that now baffle you”.