Quintessence
Posted: 05 April 2018 03:07 PM   [ Ignore ]
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An interesting etymology on a word that changed meaning due to changing concepts.

The word quintessence is an example of this. The ancient Greeks believed that there were four basic substances which composed the universe: earth, air, fire, and water. In addition to these, Aristotle postulated a fifth element, which was so much lighter and subtler than the others that it was difficult to classify and so was termed simply “fifth being.” This name entered our language as quintessence (QUINT-, “fifth,” and essence). In the middle ages the fifth element came to be regarded by the alchemists as the most essential part of any substance.  With the advance of scientific knowledge the idea of five elements was discarded, but the word quintessence remained, having lost its older significance of “fifth element” and keeping only the meaning of “the concentrated essence of anything” or, by extension, “the most perfect manifestation of some quality,” as in the expression, “He is the quintessence of conceit.”

From: English words from Latin and Greek elements.
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Posted: 09 April 2018 07:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The American analytic philosopher Willard Quine wrote a book called Quiddities which was a new word to me at the time and is related. There are interesting links on that page. I had no idea Shakespeare used it in the legal sense in Hamlet.

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Posted: 09 April 2018 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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and is related.

By meaning, but not etymologically.  You want to be careful with the term “related” around here, especially when both words start with the same combination of letters.

I recall first encountering quiddity when Bill Cosby, many years before his fall, appeared on a talk show (Johnny Carson, IIRC) and the host sprang a vocabulary quiz on him (I think this was shortly after Cosby had earned his doctorate in education, and the host ostensibly wanted to see if he was really as smart as all that).  Quiddity was one of the words, and Cosby correctly defined it, which impressed me since I was unfamiliar with it at the time.

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