Sunday, September 17, 2017

Do You Understand The Words That Are Coming Out Of My Mouth? by Jonathan McCarty


Do you, or does anyone you know, ever say "blah, blah, blah"? What about "yadda, yadda, yadda"? You know, those phrases we all use whenever someone is rambling on and we want to consider it nonsense, or something we've heard before, or we just simply do not care? Did you ever wonder where that came from?

Well, it actually comes from the ancient Greeks. The Romans did it as well, but the word that we have today because of it is interesting considering its origins. Nonsense words are just gibberish, but its roots are actually xenophobic in a lot of ways.

The Greeks of old considered their selves to be superior to everyone else around them, often with each individual city-state (or Polis) having its own claim to superiority in one way or another. We see this today in movies like "300" which gave us the phrase 'This.. is.. SPARTA!" It's an ideological superiority that's founded in physical and intellectual capability, and the idea that everyone else around you, especially those who are unknown, are somehow inferior.

This pops up a -lot- in history, and even today. People have a habit of essentially dehumanizing others whether it's for the military, political, or really any kind of gain at all. We stigmatize people because of ethnicity, religion, sexuality, because they have a speech impediment, or really, literally, any reason at all. The idea of racial inequality and social structure in itself all come from concepts rooted in xenophobia.

The fear of the outsiders, or the unknown, is a very real, very tangible thing. It's led to nation building, wars over property or resources, and to the genocide of various groups. It's something even mentioned in the Bible in the story of the Tower of Babel. The man became to enjoined, too capable, and tried to reach a common goal, so God struck them down, separated them, and divided them up by giving them skin colors, and different languages. Those differences led to generations of warfare, and hatreds that even show up in events today like the conflict between Israel and Palestine. They're truly ancient mindsets that we can never really get away from, even in a fictional setting.

But, this is one of my favorite historical pieces of humor. As I said, we have a word that we use in our almost everyday lives that comes from this practice. It's a word that is used in video games, and movies, and on television.

According to Merriam Webster, the word barbarian doesn't actually show up until the 14th Century, but it's one that is borrowed from the Greeks and is a word that we still use today to refer to someone who is cruel, or is considered uncivilized.

Originally, barbarous actually meant the same thing that barbarian does. Someone who is different from you, or somehow less equal to you because of those differences. And, it actually comes from the use of those gibberish words I mentioned at the beginning.


To the Greeks, anyone who was not from Greece, and did not speak their language sounded funny. The original word is βάρβαρος , which is pronounced "varvarous", but over time, and through changing languages, the v sound became a b. But, it still means the same thing, one who is a barbarian.

You see, the Greeks heard these non Anatolian languages as "var var var". So, they were walking around saying "bar.. bar.. bar" as far as anyone was concerned. They spoke nonsense, and as a result weren't deserving of being treated as an equal. I think that the Greeks could have benefited from reading William Hazlitt, though. He once said, 'The true barbarian is he who thinks everything barbarous but his own tastes and prejudices.'


After all, the world is better when we make an effort to work together towards a common goal, and reach an understanding. Isn't that the other thing we learned from the Greeks?


by Jonathan McCarty-

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