Fun With Words

The book I’m currently reading* made an interesting comment that got me started thinking about words. It implied a connection or common root between the words patriotism and patriarchy.

The connection seems to stem from the ‘fatherland’ concept. I’ve read or seen Germans refer to their country as ‘the fatherland’ and Russians refer to their homeland as ‘mother Russia’. I’ve never heard an actual person do this, only read about it and seen it on tv or the movies, so I could be mistaken. German usage of the term has apparently fallen off since World War 2 because this was a common Nazi practice.

Merriam Webster defines patriarchy as essentially, a organization dominated by males. And of course patriotism is love of one’s country. Since historically most countries have been ruled by men, then I’m going to conclude the two are related. But the whole thing got me started wondering….. If one of our biggest national symbols is female, should we start calling ourselves matriots instead? We do have obvious patriarchal symbols as well though, so I guess everyone gets to make their own choice.

Now, to take this in a less gender important direction…. The words ‘patron’ and ‘patronize’ also came up in the course of researching this post. Patron used to be a term used to refer to a person’s social and/or financial betters, who were taking an active interest in a person. For instance, a painter or musican may have had a duke or prince as a patron who supplied him with room and board so he could paint all day instead of working the fields. So it had basically good, if potentially snobbish overtones. Somehow it evolved into something a business may call their regular customers. So you could say that I patronize the local bookstore. I’m not sure how we got form one to the other, but I suspect it has to do with the financial relationship between patron and client. On top of those, it has an additional meaning. The most common usage of patronize seems to be used to mean an attitude of condescension, or assuming that you are better than others. (See the Nashville Scene’s treatement of bloggers recently for a good example.)

For any Potter fans, this also seems to be the root of the patronus spell used to ward off Dementors as patronus is the Medeval Latin form of patron.

* The book in question is a novel (and sequel to Ender’s Game) by Orson Scott Card. If his most recent novels are any indication, the man doesn’t much like Islam. That’s a post for another time, but you can seem some interesting opinion pieces by him at The Ornery American.


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