ARVINDUS

Contemplationam

An Etymosophy of ‘Father’ and ‘Mother’

AN ETYMOSOPHY OF ‘FATHER’ AND ‘MOTHER’

Introduction

In this contemplation an etymosophy of ‘father’ and ‘mother’ shall be given. The word ‘etymosophy’ here is used in distinction with ‘etymology’. In an etymology words with their semantics and phonetics are analyzed and traced back to their roots on themselves. In an etymosophy this tracing is guided by a wider and wiser context. Thus we are able to start our etymosophy of ‘father’ and ‘mother’ with considerations on the English word ‘other’.

‘Other’

The English word ‘other’ is in meaning closely related to the word ‘second’. Another basically is a second. That another is a second implicitly also posits the existence of a first. So the word ‘other’ refers implicitly to the existence of a first and explicitly to the existence of a second. Thus one might also say that use of the word ‘other’ posits a duality.

This word ‘other’ is etymologically traced back to the Indo-European ánteros.1 From there in many languages sprouts are considered to be found, such as in the Sanskrit suffix ‘-antara’,2 the Greek ‘anta’,3 the Latin ‘alter’4 and the Dutch and German ‘ander’5, 6.7, 8 Although not confirmed by contemporary academic etymology does ‘other’ very likely share this root with the prefix ‘anti’, which refers to an opposite.9 (After all does the etymological relation between the Greek words ‘anta’ and ‘anti’ seem logical).

So the use of the word ‘other’ posits a duality. Now often this word is used to refer to a human (‘the other’). And the most prime duality among humans regards that of man and woman or of father and mother.10 In that last mentioned duality a remarkable phonetic and semantic relation with ‘other’ can be discovered. Semantically is ‘other’ related to ‘father’ and ‘mother’ since the first posits a duality which in humans consists most primarily of the latter two. And phonetically is ‘other’ related to ‘father’ and ‘mother’ since the first can be discovered within the latter two. So since the sound ‘f’ can through ‘ph’ (phonetically ‘ϕ’) be related to the sound ‘p’11 and the sound ‘o’ (phonetically ‘ᴐ’) to ‘a’ (phonetically ‘ɑ’)12 can father and mother be seen as the pa-other and the ma-other. Note that in this relation pa is primarily other for his anti-pole ma and ma for her anti-pole pa.

Interestingly does the English word ‘alter’ through the Latin ‘alter’ share the same root with ‘other’.13 This is interesting because ‘alter’ is phonetically very close to Germanic words that are used to designate a parent, such as the Dutch ‘ouder’14 and German ‘elter’15. In English we find a corresponding word in ‘elder’ which in the past was in use too to refer to a parent.16 Note that the phonetic and semantic relations between ‘other’ and ‘elder’ are presented as striking but nevertheless kept separate from each other. No etymological relations are explicitly presumed.

‘Mother’

In the previous paragraph it was brought to the fore that the prime duality for humans regards that of man and woman or of father and mother. Let us go deeper into their etymology, starting with ‘mother’. The word ‘mother’ is normally traced back to the Indo-European word ‘māter’.17 From there sprouts are found in for instance Sanskrit (‘mātā’),18 Greek, (‘mȇter’),19 Latin (‘māter’),20 Dutch (‘moeder’)21 and German (‘mutter’).22 Along with words like ‘mama’ and ‘mammal’ is ‘mother’ thought to ultimately originate from the sounds that are in play when a baby sucks his mother’s breast.23

It is interesting to note that the Indo-European ‘māter’ is also the root of the English word ‘matter’.24 This is interesting because in the secret wisdom teaching25 the mother principle is held as a symbol of matter.26 But it is not just the mother that is taken as a symbol for matter. Water too is held as such.27

Now contemporary etymology does not trace ‘water’ back to the Indo-European ‘māter’28 Interesting is however what Helena Petrovna Blavatsky has to say about the writing of the latter. For she states that the ‘m’ in ‘māter’ (taken further into the English words ‘mother’ and ‘matter’) is derived from the water hieroglyph ‘/\/\/\’.29 This thought needs some clarification. For why would ‘/\/\/\’ through ‘m’ evolve to ‘māter’, matter and mother, and not to any other word starting with an ‘m’? Or to put the question differently: Why are not all words starting with an ‘m’ related to water? The clue to the answer lies perhaps hid in the word ‘ma’ being an abstraction of ‘mother’ and ‘matter’ and a synonym of the first. In Sanskrit, a language related to, but far older than our contemporary Germanic languages, does every consonant receive the vowel ‘a’ at its end if not specified otherwise in the Devanāgrī script in which Sanskrit is written. The basic bilabial nasal sound ‘m’ then automatically becomes the sound ‘ma’ (phonetic ‘mɑ’) which when prolonged becomes ‘mā’ (phonetic ‘ma’). So the hieroglyph ‘/\/\/\’, signifying water, and the there from derived letter ‘m’ are through ‘ma’ semantically directly connected to ‘mother’ (and through ‘māter’ also to ‘matter’).

Now Blavatsky does not write about it but it is very easy to recognize besides an ‘m’ in ‘/\/\/\’ also a ‘w’. Phonetically the bilabial nasal ‘m’ easily becomes a ‘w’ when the latter is interpreted as a bilabial approximant (instead of a (labial) velo approximant like ‘ɰ’).30 This slight difference of pronunciation then changes ‘māter’ into the English (and Dutch) ‘water’. And as such can water be related to mother not only esoteric or theosophical semantically but also phonetically.

Another word to consider here regards ‘moisture’. Contemporary etymology does not consider this word to be etymologically related to ‘mother’, ‘water’ or ‘māter’.31 The esoteric semantic relation however shall be clear with its semantic relation to ‘water’ and after what has been contemplated so far.32 Phonetically does ‘moisture’ also strike similarities with the aforementioned words although a closer analysis of the sounds present in ‘moisture’ does reveal a few gaps in their phonetic relation.

The last word to consider under this paragraph regards the English word ‘nature’. Consulting the Oxford English Dictionary the semantic relation between ‘mother’, ‘māter’ and ‘nature’ becomes immediately clear through two (of the many) definitions of ‘nature’.33 For it is stated to be the “creative and regulative physical power which is conceived of as operating in the material world and as the immediate cause of all its phenomena”,34 whereby ‘nature’ is clearly related to ‘matter’. It is also stated that (when written with a capital ‘N’) the word is “personified as a female being”.35 The almost tautological term ‘Mother Nature’ explicates the close semantic relation between ‘mother’ and ‘nature’.

Just like the Dutch ‘natuur’36 and German ‘natur’37 is ‘nature’ traced back to the Latin ‘nātūra’.38 Instead of tracing ‘nature’ from there back to ‘māter’ a move towards the Latin ‘nāscī’ (meaning ‘to be born’) is made.39 It is however justifiable to instead consider ‘māter’ as the root of ‘nātūra’. Analytically there are again a few phonetic gaps in relation with words like ‘mother’, ‘water’ and ‘māter’, as was the case in ‘moisture’, but overall a resemblance must be noticed. And where phonetic gaps may leave some doubt should the close semantic relations between ‘nature’, ‘mother’ and ‘māter’ be able to convince one to adopt an etymological relation. The words ‘mother’, ‘māter’, ‘matter’, ‘water’, ‘moisture’ and ‘nature’ regard one family of words, related to each other symbolically, semantically, phonetically and / or scriptively, and thus also etymologically.

Father

The English word ‘father’ is in contemporary etymology traced back to the Indo-European word ‘pətēr’.40 This root of the English ‘father’ is shared with the Sanskrit ‘pitṛ’ or ‘pitā’41 (and probably ‘pati’),42 the Greek ‘patér’,43 the Latin ‘pater’44 and the Dutch and German ‘vader’45, 46.47 Interestingly is the Sanskrit ‘pitṛ’ or ‘pitā’ by some also traced back to the root ‘pā’,48 a word which in English and Dutch as ‘pa’ is also used to refer to a father.49, 50

Now the Sanskrit word for father ‘pitṛ’ does not only refer to a father but also to the spirit of a departed ancestor.51 And also are the phonetics of ‘pitṛ’ reminiscent of the English word ‘spirit’, although the latter is given its etymological root through the Latin ‘spīritus’ in the Indo-European ‘speis’.52 Where thus a phonetic relation between ‘father’ and ‘spirit’ remains somewhat doubtful does Christian use of (Indo-)European languages however make a semantic relation crystal-clear. For the word ‘father’ (often written with a capital ‘F’ in such cases) is used there to refer to God, Who is the spiritual Being par excellence. And as in the secret wisdom teaching the mother principle is held as a symbol of matter is the father principle there held as a symbol of its opposite; spirit.53  

Now as mother has her opposite in father and matter in spirit so does water have its opposite in fire. General etymology traces the English word ‘fire’ (like the Dutch ‘vuur’ and the German ‘feuer’)54, 55 through the proto-Germanic ‘fūir’ back to the Indo-European ‘pūr’.56 Phonetically this word has a proximity to ‘pətēr’, the Indo-European root of ‘father’, just like ‘father’ itself, is phonetically close to ‘fire’. ‘Father’ is phonetically pronounced as ‘fɑðər’ and ‘fire’ as ‘fajər’ (or ‘faɪər’).57, 58 It is from the fricative dental ‘ð’ through the fricative palatal ‘ʝ’ only a small step to the approximant palatal ‘j’ (or ‘ɪ’).59 Just as the phonetic step from ‘pətēr’ to ‘pūr’ also needs only a few adjustments. Thus is an esoteric semantic relation between father and fire acknowledged by the phonetics of ‘father’ and ‘fire’.

Father and Mother

In the paragraph ‘Other’ it was thematized that the words ‘father’ and ‘mother’ phonetically, possibly etymologically (but definitely etymosophically), carry within them the word ‘other’ and with that the sense of otherness. What distinguishes ‘father’ and ‘mother’, and even opposes them, are the soundings ‘f’ and ‘m’. More original on the level of Indo-European language it are the soundings ‘p’ from ‘pətēr’ and ‘m’ from ‘māter’ that set the opposition. Despite this opposition the phonetics of ‘p’ and ‘m’ are very close. ‘P’ is a bilabial plosive and ‘m’ a bilabial nasal.60 Both are very basic consonants. They are basic because in their sounding both the lips and the tongue are at rest. They are all in their natural position. The difference is that with sounding the ‘p’ the air is leaving the body through the mouth while with sounding the ‘m’ it is leaving through the nose. Thus the opposition between father and mother is repeated in the opposition that exists in mouth and nose where consonant utterances are concerned. Things will be different when both vowel and consonant utterances are concerned. Because there too can a father-mother polarity or opposition be discerned. There can the ‘m’ again be considered as the mother pole but regards the father pole the ‘a’, with both of them having the ‘u’ as intermediate sound, making together the sacred sound ‘aum’. But here we leave the etymosophic territory and the consideration of ‘a’ and ‘m’ as opposite poles in the sacred ‘aum’ shall be left for a possible future contemplation.

Summary

The goal of this contemplation was to give more than an etymology an etymosophy of ‘father’ and ‘mother’. For this first the word ‘other’ was considered and found to be semantically and phonetically present within the words ‘father’ and ‘mother’. ‘Mother’ was through its root ‘māter’ found to be phonetically related to the word ‘matter’, a relation that was found to exist esoteric symbolically too. ‘Water’ was another word found to be phonetically and esoteric symbolically related, but also scriptively. Other semantic and phonetic relations were found in the words ‘moisture’ and ‘nature’. The word ‘father’ was through the Sanskrit ‘pitṛ’ phonetically related to ‘spirit’, semantically through the Christian use of the word ‘father’ and symbolically through the secret wisdom teaching. A phonetic and symbolic relation was also laid down to the word ‘fire’. Lastly the phonetic distinction between ‘father’ and ‘mother’ was considered and found to consist of the sounds ‘p’ and ‘m’ pronounced through mouth and nose. And with that the etymosophy of ‘father’ and ‘mother’ was completed.

Notes
  1. John Ayto, Word Origins, The Hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z, A & C Black, London, 2005, p. 361.
  2. Monier Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Etymologically and Philologically Arranged, With Special Reference to Greek, Latin, Gothic, German, Anglo-Saxon, and Other Cognate Indo-European Languages, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1862, p. 42.
  3. Henry George Liddell, and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996, p.148.
  4. Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, London, 1968, p. 107.
  5. Van Dale Groot Woordenboek Hedendaags Nederlands, zoeksoftware, versie 2.0, Van Dale Lexicografie bv, Utrecht / Antwerpen, 2002.
  6. Der Digitale Grimm, (version 12-04), Zweitausandeins, Frankfurt am Main, 2004.
  7. See note 1.
  8. Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0), Oxford University Press, 2009, under ‘other, a. pron. (n.)’.
  9. Ibidem, under ‘anti-, prefix1’.
  10. Sex: Unity Cut into Duality’, Index: 201001091.
  11. The labiodental fricative ‘f’ can be related through the bilabial fricative ‘ϕ’ to the bilabial plosive ‘p’. See: Peter Roach, English Phonetics and Phonology, A Practical Course, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / et alibi, 1991, p. 40.
  12. The open-mid back ‘ᴐ’ is related to the open back ‘α’. See: Ibidem, p. 41.
  13. Word Origins, p. 20.
  14. Van Dale Groot Woordenboek Hedendaags Nederlands.
  15. Der Digitale Grimm.
  16. Oxford English Dictionary, under ‘elder, a. and n.3'.
  17. Word Origins, p. 340.
  18. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, p. 764.
  19. A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 1130.
  20. Oxford Latin Dictionary, p. 1082.
  21. Van Dale Groot Woordenboek Hedendaags Nederlands.
  22. Der Digitale Grimm.
  23. See note 17.
  24. Ibidem.
  25. ‘Secret Wisdom Teaching, ‘Secret Wisdom Teaching’’, Index: 201211101.
  26. Alice A. Bailey, 'A Treatise on Cosmic Fire’, in: Twenty-Four Books of Esoteric Philosophy, (CD-ROM, Release 3), Lucis Trust, London / New York, 2001, Section Two, Division D, IV, 3, b. “There is no contradiction here to the occult teaching that Father and Mother, or Spirit and Matter, when brought into contact, produce the Son.”
  27. Ibidem. “Mother—Matter—Moisture (or the waters).”
  28. Word Origins, p. 542.
  29. Helena P. Blavatsky, ‘The Secret Doctrine, Volume I’, in: Theosophical Classics, (CD ROM), Theosophical Publishing House, Manilla, 2002, p. 65. “Water is the symbol of the female element everywhere; mater, from which the letter M, is derived pictorially from /\/\/\, a water hieroglyph.”
  30. English Phonetics and Phonology, p. 40.
  31. Word Origins, p. 336.
  32. See note 27.
  33. Oxford English Dictionary, under ‘nature, n.’.
  34. Ibidem, IV, 11, a.
  35. Ibidem, b.
  36. Van Dale Groot Woordenboek Hedendaags Nederlands.
  37. Der Digitale Grimm.
  38. Word Origins, p. 346.
  39. Ibidem.
  40. Ibidem, p. 212.
  41. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary , p. 573.
  42. Ibidem, p. 528.
  43. A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 1348.
  44. Oxford Latin Dictionary, p. 1307, ff.
  45. Van Dale Groot Woordenboek Hedendaags Nederlands.
  46. Der Digitale Grimm.
  47. Oxford English Dictionary, under ‘father, n.’.
  48. See note 44.
  49. Oxford English Dictionary, under ‘pa1’.
  50. Van Dale Groot Woordenboek Hedendaags Nederlands.
  51. See note 41.
  52. Word Origins, p. 472.
  53. See note 26.
  54. Van Dale Groot Woordenboek Hedendaags Nederlands.
  55. Der Digitale Grimm.
  56. Word Origins, p. 219.
  57. See note 47.
  58. Oxford English Dictionary, under ‘fire, n.’.
  59. See note 30.
  60. Ibidem.
Bibliography
  • ‘Secret Wisdom Teaching, ‘Secret Wisdom Teaching’’, Index: 201211101.
  • Sex: Unity Cut into Duality’, Index: 201001091.
  • John Ayto, Word Origins, The Hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z, A & C Black, London, 2005.
  • Alice A. Bailey, 'A Treatise on Cosmic Fire’, in: Twenty-Four Books of Esoteric Philosophy, (CD-ROM, Release 3), Lucis Trust, London / New York, 2001.
  • Helena P. Blavatsky, ‘The Secret Doctrine, Volume I’, in: Theosophical Classics, (CD ROM), Theosophical Publishing House, Manilla, 2002. “
  • Henry George Liddell, and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996.
  • Peter Roach, English Phonetics and Phonology, A Practical Course, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / et alibi, 1991.
  • Monier Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Etymologically and Philologically Arranged, With Special Reference to Greek, Latin, Gothic, German, Anglo-Saxon, and Other Cognate Indo-European Languages, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1862.
  • Der Digitale Grimm, (version 12-04), Zweitausandeins, Frankfurt am Main, 2004.
  • Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0), Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, London, 1968.
  • Van Dale Groot Woordenboek Hedendaags Nederlands, zoeksoftware, versie 2.0, Van Dale Lexicografie bv, Utrecht / Antwerpen, 2002.