or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Well, I don't know what happened over the last few weeks. I couldn't work up enough of a dudgeon about anything I read to make it worth posting about, I didn't run across any particularly fascinating etymologies, and I was busy with work and with getting ready to go on my trip, which means that I probably won't be posting much for the next week and a half, either.

But this is interesting. "Empirical". I mean, just look at it. Obviously it has to be related to the word "empire", but no matter how hard you stretch your brain, there's just no way you can make a connection between the meanings of the two words. With good reason, too: as you may have suspected, there isn't one.

"Empire" is taken directly from the French (who pronounce it "om-peer"); this in turn is descended from Latin "imperium", which is ultimately a fusion of "im-" and "parare", "to prepare", which gave English such words as "prepare" and "repair". "Parare" also meant "to order", so "imperium" meant "to rule: to command", from which all the obvious descendants such as "emperor" and "imperial" can be seen to stem.

"Empirical", on the other hand, means "arising from evidence (as opposed to theory or revelation)", and its source is Greek instead of Latin: "peira", "trial, experiment". "Empeiros" means "skilled"--describing someone who has repeatedly tried his hand at his line of work and is good at it--and "empeirikos" means "experienced", so an empirical experiment is one that you actually do, as opposed to one you merely think about. Theorizing (aka "guessing") gets you believing along with Pliny that flies have four legs: empirical evidence will prove that, unless you have cruelly yanked off a couple, they have, as do all insects, six.


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