The formation of the most perfected words, the most meaningful, the most philosophical, in the fullest sense of the world occurs unfailingly in periods of ignorance and simplicity. The onomathurgical talent is invariably disappearing as we descend towards the civilized and scientific eras. In all the writings that appear in our time on this most interesting subject, there is nothing but an invocation of a philosophical language, and without knowing indeed without suspecting, that the most philosophical language is that in which philosophy is least mingled. The latter lacks too little faculties to create words. Intelligence to invent them, and authority to have them adopted. Does philosophy see a new object? It will go and leaf through its dictionaries to find an ancient or foreign term, and always the enterprise comes to a bad end. Montgolfiere, for example, which is used throughout the country, is correct in at least one sense. And I prefer it to aero state, which is a scientific term but suggests nothing. You could just as well call a ship hydrostatic. Observe the invasion of new words borrowed from the Greek over the last 20 years, gradually, as crimes or madness demanded them. More or less of them are formed erroneously, they are self contradictory. Theophiloanthrophists, for example, is a term more foolish than the thing in itself, which is saying plenty. A simple English or German scholar would have been led to say on the contrary. Theanthpophile. You will reply that this world was invented by wretches in a wretched age, and yet the terminology of chemistry, which was surely created by invited men, begins precisely with the lowest sort of solecism.

Poetics of Space


When they should say, instead, oxygon.

I am not a chemist, but I have excellent teasons to believe that honest terminology is destined to vanish. The fact remains in all case that from a philosophical and grammatical point of view it would be the most unhappy imaginable if the prize for barbarism were not contested and wrested away by the metric vocabulary.

p. 138-140 from the chapter, ‘The Linguistics of Joseph De Maistre’, Serendipities, Umberto Eco

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13 September 2018

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