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We Come From The Land Down *nter

Tracing back the etymological roots of words related to mental processes reveals some interesting patterns. The words understanding and interesting, for instance,  have almost the identical root. Under_, in this case, derives from the Proto-Indo-European root *nter, as does inter_, meaning between and within. As in ‘international’ or ‘under these conditions’, *nter conveys a connection between things which are in one sense ‘apart’ from each other and in another sense ‘a part’ of a larger whole.

To say ‘I don’t understand’ is passive: ‘I fail to internalize’, whereas ‘I am not interested’ invokes conscious intent: ‘I don’t care to internalize’. The difference between the root words stand and est refer us to this distinction between setting or settling within and being (es, is, essence) within. Interesting and understanding, like many terms we use for phenomenological processes* deal directly with the psyche’s ability to embrace things internally or to be captured or captivated by (taken within) something.

The question is, what interests us? What causes us to pay attention? The answer seems to be more complex, more in-volved, than we might assume.  A mechanistic approach might lead us to focus on things like acceleration of changes in amplitude of sensory input or the introduction of novelty against an established sensory pattern. These things can be easily studied with quantitative analysis and simulated through computation. There seems to be, however, another more important aspect which is not as easily studied because it is qualitative, synthetic, and figurative rather than literal.

I propose a direct correlation with interest level and personal identification, such that there is a continuum ranging from trivial interest to profound personal interest:

  1. Universal attention-grabbing devices: To amplify the superficial physical form of a message. Raising the volume, increasing the size, color, animation, etc. Note that this generates only a short term interest, so that it must be repeated with high frequency.
  2. Lowest common denominator solicitation methods: To exploit physiological references to figuratively amplify the effectiveness of a message through commonality. Food, sex, violence, broad comedy, socio-political identification.
  3. Niche marketing: Targeting particular groups based on their shared behaviors and experiences. The more targeted the message, the more impact it can potentially interest the members of the group.
  4. Biographical selection: An individual’s life experience can be thought of as a cumulative web or intertial frame of semantic constructs which both qualifies experience as it happens as well as identifies personally with it in an idiosyncratic way. This inertial build-up contributes to who we are by giving us reasons why we should or should not care about one thing or another. The more deeply something resonates with ourselves and our lives as a whole, the more it generates an abiding, long term interest.

*such as introspection, insight, intuition, importance, perception, apprehension, comprehension, attention, involving, engaging, informing

interest (n.)
mid-15c., “legal claim or right; concern; benefit, advantage;” earlier interesse (late 14c.), from Anglo-Fr. interesse “what one has a legal concern in,” from M.L. interesse “compensation for loss,” noun use of L. interresse “to concern, make a difference, be of importance,” lit. “to be between,” from inter- “between” (see inter-) + esse “to be” (see essence). Cf. Ger. Interesse, from the same M.L. source. Form in English influenced 15c. by Fr. interest “damage,” from L. interest “it is of importance, it makes a difference,” third person singular present of interresse. Financial sense of “money paid for the use of money lent” (1520s) earlier was distinguished from usury (illegal under Church law) by being in reference to “compensation due from a defaulting debtor.” Meaning “curiosity” is first attested 1771. Interest group is attested from 1908; interest rate by 1959.
interest (v.)
“to cause to be interested,” c.1600, earlier interesse (1560s), from the noun (see interest (n.)). Perhaps also from or influenced by interess’d, pp. of interesse.
late 14c., essencia (respelled late 15c. on French model), from L. essentia “being, essence,” abstract noun formed in imitation of Gk. ousia “being, essence” (from on, gen. ontos, prp. of einai “to be”), from essent-, prp. stem of esse “to be,” from PIE *es- (cf. Skt. asmi, Hittite eimi, O.C.S. jesmi, Lith. esmi, Goth. imi, O.E. eom “I am;” see be). Originally “substance of the Trinity,” the general sense of “basic element of anything” is first recorded in English 1650s, though this is the base meaning of the first English use of essential.
intelligence (n.)
late 14c., “faculty of understanding,” from O.Fr. intelligence (12c.), from L. intelligentia, intellegentia “understanding, power of discerning; art, skill, taste,” from intelligentem (nom. intelligens) “discerning,” prp. of intelligere “to understand, comprehend,” from inter- “between” (see inter-) + legere “choose, pick out, read” (see lecture). Meaning superior understanding, sagacity” is from early 15c. Sense of “information, news” first recorded mid-15c., especially “secret information from spies” (1580s). Intelligence quotient first recorded 1921 (see I.Q.).
mid-15c., from L.L. intuitionem (nom. intuitio) “a looking at, consideration,” noun of action from pp. stem of L. intueri “look at, consider,” from in- “at, on” (see in- (2)) + tueri “to look at, watch over” (see tuition).
insight (n.)
c.1200, innsihht, “sight with the eyes of the mind,” mental vision, understanding,” from in + sight. Sense shaded into “penetrating understanding into character or hidden nature” (1580s).
attend (v.)
c.1300, “to direct one’s mind or energies,” from O.Fr. atendre (12c., Mod.Fr. attendre) “to expect, wait for, pay attention,” and directly from L. attendere “give heed to,” lit. “to stretch toward,” from ad- “to” (see ad-) + tendere “stretch” (see tenet). The notion is of “stretching” one’s mind toward something. Sense of “take care of, wait upon” is from early 14c. Meaning “to pay attention” is early 15c.; that of “to be in attendance” is mid-15c. Related: Attended; attending.
O.E. understandan “comprehend, grasp the idea of,” probably lit. “stand in the midst of,” from under + standan “to stand” (see stand). If this is the meaning, the under is not the usual word meaning “beneath,” but from O.E. under, from PIE *nter- “between, among” (cf. Skt. antar “among, between,” L. inter “between, among,” Gk. entera “intestines;” see inter-).That is the suggestion in Barnhart, but other sources regard the “among, between, before, in the presence of” sense of O.E. prefix and preposition under as other meanings of the same word. “Among” seems to be the sense in many O.E. compounds that resemble understand, e.g. underniman “to receive,” undersecan “to investigate,” underginnan “to begin.” It also seems to be the sense still in expressions such as under such circumstances.

Perhaps the ultimate sense is “be close to,” cf. Gk. epistamai “I know how, I know,” lit. “I stand upon.” Similar formations are found in O.Fris. (understonda), M.Dan. (understande), while other Germanic languages use compounds meaning “stand before” (cf. Ger. verstehen, represented in O.E. by forstanden). For this concept, most I.E. languages use figurative extensions of compounds that lit. mean “put together,” or “separate,” or “take, grasp” (see comprehend). O.E. oferstandan, M.E. overstonden, lit. “over-stand” seem to have been used only in literal senses.

import (v.)
early 15c., “convey information, express, make known, signify,” from L. importare “bring in, convey,” from assimilated form of in- “into, in” (see in- (2)) + portare “to carry” (see port (1)). Sense of “bring in goods from abroad” first recorded c.1500. Related: Imported; importing.
import (n.)
“consequence, importance,” 1580s; sense of “that which is imported” is from 1680s; both from import (v.).
late 14c., “inference, conclusion,” from O.Fr. consequence “result” (13c., Mod.Fr. conséquence), from L. consequentia, from consequentem (nom. consequens), prp. of consequi “to follow after,” from com- “with” (see com-) + sequi “to follow” (see sequel). Sense of “importance” (c.1600) is from notion of being “pregnant with consequences.”
infer (v.)
1520s, from L. inferre “bring into, carry in; deduce, infer, conclude, draw an inference; bring against,” from in- “in” (see in- (2)) + ferre “carry, bear,” from PIE *bher- (1) “to bear, to carry, to take” (cf. Skt. bharati “carries;” Avestan baraiti “carries;” O.Pers. barantiy “they carry;” Armenian berem “I carry;” Gk. pherein “to carry;” O.Ir. beru/berim “I catch, I bring forth;” Goth. bairan “to carry;” O.E., O.H.G. beran, O.N. bera “barrow;” O.C.S. birati “to take;” Rus. brat’ “to take,” bremya “a burden”). Sense of “draw a conclusion” is first attested 1520s.
mid-14c., “to understand,” from L. comprehendere “to take together, to unite; include; seize” (of catching fire or the arrest of criminals); also “to comprehend, perceive” (to seize or take in the mind), from com- “completely” (see com-) + prehendere “to catch hold of, seize” (see prehensile). Related: Comprehended; comprehending.
c.1300, via Anglo-Fr. parceif, O.N.Fr. *perceivre, O.Fr. perçoivre, from L. percipere “obtain, gather,” also, metaphorically, “to grasp with the mind,” lit. “to take entirely,” from per “thoroughly” (see per) + capere “to grasp, take” (see capable). Replaced O.E. ongietan. Both the Latin senses were in Old French, though the primary sense of Modern French percevoir is literal, “to receive, collect” (rents, taxes, etc.), while English uses the word almost always in the metaphorical sense. Related: Perceived; perceiving; perceivable;
mid-14c., “to grasp in the senses or mind,” from O.Fr. aprendre (12c.) “teach; learn; take, grasp; acquire,” or directly from L. apprehendere “to take hold of, grasp,” from ad- “to” + prehendere “to seize” (see prehensile). Metaphoric extension to “seize with the mind” took place in Latin, and was the sole sense of cognate O.Fr. aprendre (Mod.Fr. apprendre “to learn, to be informed about;” also cf. apprentice). Original sense returned in English in meaning “to seize in the name of the law, arrest,” recorded from 1540s, which use probably was taken directly from Latin. Related: Apprehended; apprehending.
subject (n.)
early 14c., “person under control or dominion of another,” from O.Fr. suget, subget “a subject person or thing” (12c.), from L. subiectus, noun use of pp. of subicere “to place under,” from sub “under” + combining form of iacere “to throw” (see jet (v.)). In 14c., sugges, sogetis, subgit, sugette; form re-Latinized in English 16c. Meaning “person or thing that may be acted upon” is recorded from 1590s. Meaning “subject matter of an art or science” is attested from 1540s, probably short for subject matter (late 14c.), which is from M.L. subjecta materia, a loan translation of Gk. hypokeimene hyle (Aristotle), lit. “that which lies beneath.” Likewise some specific uses in logic and philosophy are borrowed directly from L. subjectum “foundation or subject of a proposition,” a loan-translation of Aristotle’s to hypokeimenon. Grammatical sense is recorded from 1630s. The adj. is attested from early 14c.
instant (n.)
late 14c., “infinitely short space of time,” from O.Fr. instant (adj.) “assiduous, at hand,” from M.L. instantem (nom. instans), in classical Latin “present, pressing, urgent,” lit. “standing near,” prp. of instare “to urge, to stand near, be present (to urge one’s case),” from in- “in” (see in- (2)) + stare “to stand,” from PIE root *sta- “to stand” (see stet). Elliptical use of the French adjective as a noun.
involve (v.)
late 14c., “envelop, surround,” from L. involvere “envelop, surround, overwhelm,” lit. “roll into,” from in- “in” (see in- (2)) + volvere “to roll” (see vulva). Originally “envelop, surround,” sense of “take in, include” first recorded c.1600. Related: Involved; Involving.
early 15c., “to pledge,” from M.Fr. engagier, from O.Fr. en gage “under pledge,” from en “make” + gage “pledge,” through Frankish from P.Gmc. *wadiare “pledge” (showing the common evolution of Germanic -w- to French -g-; cf. Guillaume from Wilhelm). Meaning “attract the attention of” is from 1640s; that of “employ” is from 1640s, from notion of “binding as by a pledge.” Specific sense of “promise to marry” is 1610s (implied in engaged).
inform (v.)
early 14c., “to train or instruct in some specific subject,” from O.Fr. informer “instruct, inform, teach,” and directly from L. informare “to shape, form,” figuratively “train, instruct, educate,” from in- “into” (see in- (2)) + formare “to form, shape,” from forma “form” (see form). Varied with enform until c.1600. Sense of “report facts or news” first recorded late 14c. Related: Informed; informing.
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