Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What Is In A Name?

The name of this Blog deserves some explanation.  I spent time contemplating what to call the Blog and came up with Filiopietism Prism based first on the fortuitous discovery of the word "filiopietistic" early in 2012.  I forget now exactly how I came across the word since I was not searching for it and thus did not keep notes, a source list or a family group sheet.  Perhaps it was a "Word of the Day" that popped up in my daily email subscription to Dictionary.com or I came across it while reading some history or genealogy.  In any event, I looked up the word and wrote it down as a keeper given my interest in genealogy.  And then I actually had occasion to put the word to use not long after discovering it.

The organizers of the annual conference of my employer decided that everyone should be required to indicate a hobby or interest to be displayed on their name tag for the event.  The rascal in me decided to use the noun form of filiopietistic with a capital letter to make it look more imposing and impressive as folks stumbled over how to pronounce the word  -- Filiopietism!

It worked.  I developed a quick and easy definition and in doing so the word became mine.  [As they say about learning a new word, use it and it becomes yours!  Or perhaps more aptly here -- as Humpty Dumpty said in Through the Looking Glass -- "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.  The question is, which is to be master -- that's all."]  Channeling my best Humpty Dumpty, I casually explained Filiopietism as "a fancy word for an interest in genealogy" and this segued into several engaging conversations about genealogy as a hobby.

The actual dictionary definition of filiopietistic is narrower than a mere synonym for the study of or an interest in genealogy.  It derives from Latin root words: filio, meaning "brotherly" and pius or pietas, the former meaning "devout or affectionate" and the latter from Ecclesiastic Latin meaning "duty to God."  The first known use of the word filiopietistic according to Merriam-Webster.com was in 1893 -- so it is probably a fairly recent concocted word and thus excuses my kinder, gentler expansion of its meaning.  Various dictionaries define the word as: "of or relating to an often excessive veneration of ancestors or tradition;" or "pertaining to reverence of forebears or tradition, especially if carried to excess;" or "of or relating to an often immoderate reverence for forbears or tradition."  But modern words deriving from the roots for filiopietistic come a bit closer to my gentler use of the noun form.  A definition for piety is "loyalty and devotion to parents, family, etc."  And a now archaic use for the word pious is "having or showing a sense of duty and loyalty to parents, family, friends, etc."  In any event, can we amateur and more experienced genealogists even conceive of reverence or veneration of ancestors immoderately carried to excess???  Impossible!  :-)

Rhyming is always a catchy way to use words -- as many a poet, lyricist or Humpty Dumpty will tell you -- and so once decided on my own particular use of the word filiopietism for this Blog, it was a short trip to the pairing with prism.

In the world of optics, a prism is a glass or other transparent object that separates white light into its spectrum of colors -- a trick we were all mesmerized by in grade school science class.  And do not genealogists separate into familial spectra the forbears and descendants of a primary light source known as a home person or research subject?   But the word prism can also be used figuratively to reference the distortion or clarification that a particular viewpoint can provide.  For the genealogist (amateur or otherwise), is not the search for ancestors and relatives often distorted by the prism lens of time?  And is  not careful research and study the means to provide some clarification of the distortion that the prism of time presents us with?  We who are fascinated by genealogy all struggle to clarify our viewpoint today of who and what our ancestors were years, decades and centuries ago -- and so we all work in a sense through our own prisms, our Filiopietism Prism.  :-)
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Copyright 2013,  John D. Tew
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