or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, November 14, 2010

No, The Other One

For some reason the word "altruism" kept popping up in things I was reading, most recently yesterday morning at the gym, when the news channel on one of the TVs had a piece about a couple of women in Ontario who had been arrested for faking cancer as a way of making money from the unsuspecting well-meaning public; some talking head was gassing on about it (not his fault, the news channel has to fill the hours somehow), and of course the word in question came up.

It looks as if it ought to be Latinate, from "alter", "other", but what's that "-u-" doing in there? It ought to be "alterism". It just doesn't make sense.

And then you learn that the word was coined by some French guy (a philosopher named Auguste Comte, if you must know) as "altruisme" (since it's French, but the last letter naturally enough got trimmed when it was imported into English) from the French word "autrui", and you think, "Well, fine, then what's the ell doing in there? It ought to be 'autruism'."

And it turns out that, predictably, "autrui" used to be "altrui" in Old French, and when Comte created the word, he was harking back either to Old French or even older Latin.

So that's that sorted.


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