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IGNORANCE: ITS ETYMOLOGY AND DISPLAY

“I AM largely ignorant of Latin.” “Ignorance is bliss.” “Tweeting it as ‘Marine Core’ displays more than a little ignorance.”

Each of these sentences displays a nuance of “ignorance,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “a lack of knowledge, understanding, or education: the state of being ignorant.”

The adjective “ignorant” and noun “ignorance” both are related to the English word “ignore: “to refuse to take notice of.” All three trace back to Latin words ignarus, from in negating gnoscere. This last one, with a negating “a” is related to the English word “agnostic,” unknowable, tracing back to the Greek, gignōskein, “to know.”

Ain’t etymology fun?

There’s a curiosity in M-W’s dating the first English appearances of ignorance (13th century), ignorant (14th century), and ignore (1801). Are we to infer there were folks displaying a lack of knowledge 600 years before they refused to take notice of it?

Which reminds me of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, wherein highly intelligent people realize how little they know, and stupid people are too stupid to realize how lacking they are.

Remind you of anyone you know?

For more on these origins in English, I consulted The Compact Edition of the Oxford Dictionary, 1971. It says the first appearance of “ignorance” was in the 1300s: As an example, “Ye blynd in ignoraunce he makis seand in wisdome.” Sort of a 1340 Dunning-Kruger Effect, eh?

In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Malvolio (a great name, that) is told by the Clown, “I say, there is no darkness but ignorance; in which thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians in their fog.”

Malvolio and pals in Twelfth Night, Act IV, Scene 3.

The OED’s earliest citation for “ignorant” is from our old pal Geoffrey Chaucer: “What wyht þat is al vnkunnynge and ignorant,” 1374. By the way, the Old and Middle English letter “þ,” aka “thorn,” has been replaced in all but modern Icelandic by “th,” hardly an efficient swap.

The OED agrees with M-W about the late-arriving “ignore” meaning “to refuse to take notice of.” Its earliest reference is William Taylor, British essayist, in 1801: “It is the worst symptom about your rise, that you ignore your former friends.” This comes from A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the late William Taylor of Norwich, Volume 1, by John Wattle Robberds.

William Taylor, 1765–1836, British essayist, scholar, polyglot, and political radical. He is notable as a supporter and translator of German romantic literature.

Concerning modern usage of the words, M-W cites nuances of “ignorant” in a mini-essay on its polite and not-so-polite uses: “Some of these are more insulting than others, and care should be exercised before applying this word to people who you do not wish to offend.”

Me? I’d be the first to offend no less than M-W about its foisting off “who you do not wish to offend” in lieu of “whom you do not wish to offend.” And, in possibly similarly offense comments, I offer the following:

Trump displayed embarrassing ignorance in tweeting his appreciation for the U.S. Marine “Core” after a visit to the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar during his California trip. Even the MarineTimes winced.

Image from MarineTimes, March 14, 2018.

In a fundraising event on the same trip, this one in St. Louis, March 14, 2018, Trump doubled down on his making up facts when discussing U.S./Canadian trade with Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

Trump and Trudeau compare truisms concerning the U.S./Canadian trade imbalance.

According to a White House economic report, and counter to Trump’s ignorance, Canada has the $2.6 billion trade deficit, not the U.S.

$2.6 billion? One would think that’s a lot of ignorance (or is it just pointless braggadocio?). ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

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