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Seeing my way clear to a word’s history

By Debra Dobbins

As I read this quote this morning, I comprehended the meaning of “obvious” but realized I knew nothing about its history. Some sleuthing revealed some interesting details.

In the 1580s, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “obvious” meant “frequently met with.” The word came from “Latin obvius ‘that is in the way, presenting itself readily, open, exposed, commonplace,’ from obviam … ‘in the way,’ from ob "against" … + viam, accusative of via ‘way,’" the dictionary citation adds.

One way I remember aspects of a word is to paint a mental scene. So, to anchor this word’s history into my memory, I’m envisioning two Roman centurions frequently meeting each other at a crossroad.

One of their chariots is old. It frequently breaks down right in the middle of the junction and gets in the way of the other centurion’s passage. Perhaps their frequent meetings become a common sight -- obvious to everyone.

Is this a silly example? Probably. It does, however, work for me, so – please – your indulgence … just this once?

The quote, by the way, comes from an ancient book, On the Natural Faculties. It was written by Claudius Galenus, a physician and philosopher in Rome in the second century AD, according to Wikipedia. He became simply known as Galen.

His words remind me to remain optimistic. In the nippy grip of gray, January days, I’m wondering if the warmth and brightness of springtime will ever arrive.

I’ll also try to remember the creed in 2nd Corinthians 5:7 (King James version) – one with which Galen surely would have agreed: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Lithograph of Galen by Pierre Roche Vigneron
Courtesy of Wikipedia



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