Bill Long 3/28/07
A Hotchpot(ch) of Words
When you write on words you can really get "lost." In fact you can almost go crazy making lists of various phenomena--varieties of fruit, mythical creatures, types of food, various "phobias" or "isms" or "forms," etc. But I think you do make progress. Here is a case in point. I began this page by writing more than 25 essays on the 2005 Kids Bee, mostly because I wasn't familiar with these words. But then I discovered the Consolidated Word List, studied it, sifted it, learned it, and now, when I review earlier years from the Kids Bee (I have done 1996-1998), I have fewer than a page of words I think I need to learn. I am "catching on," at least for purposes of Kids spelling bees. But this is stimulating my interest to mow down hundreds of more fields of words, ranging from the technical to general.
But this has to be only a start. After all, there are lots of other languages to learn, and since I have only studied a dozen or so, there are many more to go. And, I think they get more difficult the more I leave the safe confines of the Semitic/Germanic/Romance/Classical languages. Well, let's explore.
"Eity"...An Easily Ignored Ending
The only persons who really have much to do with "eity" endings are philosophers and theologians. They do so because the ending suggests "ness" or "essential characteristic." Philosophers are always debating, or at least they used to debate, whether there were essences or not, and a host of words suggests that there is. Let's run through them. God is said to have aseity (being from oneself), that is, underived or independent existence. Coleridge called it "the obscure and abysmal subject of divine A-seity." For all his dislike of the subject, I don't know why he didn't call it the divine ass-eity.
Well, we also have seity, which simply means "something peculiar to oneself," or "that which consitutes the self." The great Dunce, Duns Scotus, was the source of the word. From 1709, "Scotus, to distinguish the Race of Mankind, gives every Individual of that Species what he calls a Seity, something peculiar to himself, which makes him different from all other persons in the world. This particularity renders him either venerable or ridiculous, according as he uses his talents." Or, if a guy is feeling oppressed by a girl, he ought to look at her and spit out, "You are threatening my very seity." That is one way to get rid of her.
Alerity technically doesn't belong here, since it doesn't end in "eity," but here we have it. No dictionary has it--and probably for good reason. I think it is a term invented by deconstructionist literary critics in the last two decades to describe something with respect to the "other" (alter in Latin is the "other one"). I think, then, it is a synonym of "otherness." But "otherness" is just such a dull word that one needs to invent another word in order to maximize confusion. The "literature," as it is graciously called, was full of studies of "the Other" in the last 30 years. Maybe we needed another word for "other" so we can begin the cycle all over again. Well, there is now a book out there entited Equality and Alerity: Phenomenological Investigations of Discrimation. I don't know, but I believe the book is a screed against discriminating against people. Whenever I read about someone's treatment about "the Other," I begin to feel very alienated. Maybe that makes me a new Other and they should study me. One author I looked at spoke of "the radical structure of alerity." Of course, it can't be anything else but radical or the person using the word would have to slink out of the room without taking his Starbucks with him.
Let's return to "eity" before I get too snitty. We also have ipseity, which is a term going back to Cambridge Platonist Henry More in the mid-17th century to mean "personal identity and individuality; selfhood." I have spoken about his love for nullibicity here. Coleridge, though he coldn't stand aseity, seemed not to mind ipseity. He said, "In the Trinity there is, 1. Ipseity. 2. Alterity (I guess the lit-crits swiped the word from him) and 3. Community." Emboldened by the use of these terms, I think I will go around now with chest puffed out touting my ipseity. Come to think of it, I could also talk about my egoity. This is also defined as "selfhood." Don't we have enough "selfhood-type" words now to make a choir of four parts? It was invented in 1651: "Our individual singularity and egoity."
Well, let's hasten on to finish this arid subject. There also is quiddity. Derived from medieval scholastic philosophy, the quiddity (whatness) of a thing is that which distinguishes it from other things and makes it what it is, and not another. John Milton could write: "Neither shall I stand to trifle with one that will tell me of quiddities and formalities." Just to show you the sea of complete bullshit in which philosophers were swimming in the 19th century, we have this choice quotation: "The Quiddity and Essence of the incomprehensible Creator cannot imprint any formal Conception upon the finite Intellect of the Creature." Huh? Run that by me again. Better yet, don't even mention it again. I think that when you use the word you ought to look very earnest in countenance, focus your eyes, make a fist and say, "What really galls me is that no one has really understood the quiddity of the issue." Surely you will get some eager undergraduates to take notes.
We have to finish with haecceity, which the Unabridged kindly tells us can also be spelled hecceity, which means that they can't use it in a spelling bee. This is a real pain for me since ever since I ran into the word, I have been refining my spelling, making sure I get it straight so that I could hit this baby out of the park. But I won't get a chance. Well, just as "quid" is taken from the Latin meaning "that," so "haec" is the Latin for "this." Hence haecceity is defined as "the status of being an individual or a particular nature: individuality, specificity, thisness." In fact, it gives quiddity as a synonym. That is sure nice to know. We really do need more than one term to express a concept that no one needs to express. Again, we descend to Duns to find the origin of the term: "Duns Scotus..placed the principle of Individuation in 'a certain determining positive entity' which his school called Haecceity or thisness."
Maybe we really can understand the 1960s to the present as a period of philosophical debate where everyone just wanted his/her own haecceity. Perhaps university presidents wouldn't have fallen like flies in the Viet Nam War era if they just had had the presence of mind to say to students who occupied their offices, "I grant you your haecceity. Now, get the hell out of here."
Let's keep wandering. After all, it is a cold and dank March afternoon.