Thursday, September 18, 2008

# 3 of gnosco: ignoro: to not know and nobilis: known, well known

Greetings, those of you who are in the know! Today I will continue the 3rd edition of subsidiary roots that come from the Latin verb gnosco, gnoscere, gnovi, gnotum: to get to know, find out. To look at this root, take a looks at this Greek and Latin roots site, and then choose the correct word tree, or check out this word tree on a Greek and Latin roots poster. The following two Latin roots form a surprising number of words; nor is it surprising to find out or get to know that the second of these word roots form many more words than the first--and you'll see clearly why soon. The root words are the following:

Ignoro, ignorare, ignoravi, ignoratum—to not know

Nobilis—known, well known, famous, noble {nobl}

It is easy to see why these come from a verb meaning "to get to know, to find out." To be knowledgeable about the first root, ignoro, is to bypass ignorance itself, that is, the "not knowing" of something. If one ignores an unpleasant situation, one probably "knows" at least something about it (at least enough to know that it is something worth avoiding); one is pretending "not to know" about it, and hence treats the subject as either something "not (worth) knowing" about, or forcibly encourages oneself to remain "not knowing" about it, to the point where one becomes a volotional or willing ignoramus, that is, one who does "not know" anything about either a particular subject, or, indeed, many subjects (the opposite of which would be a polymath or Renaissance person, one who knows much about many things).
On the opposite pole, one can hardly remain ignorant of the nobility, those whom are etymologically "well known" or "famous," usually for having a great deal of aristocratic influence (by the bye, an "aristocracy" is "rule by the best:" note the underlying bias towards those in power; many would argue that most aristocracies are in actuality kakistocracies, or rule by the worst!). Hence, if one is noble, one should become "known" for good character, a character that supposedly underlay the noblewoman or nobleman (oftentimes rife with nobiliary particles, such as von and de, as in Chretien de Troyes and Cyrano de Bergerac and the von Trapp family, used to indicate noble rank); nobles had the charge of noblesse oblige placed upon them, the idea that those of high birth and powerful social position (that is, those "well known" to all the lowly because of their power and influence) were to act chivalrously towards the less fortunate, etc., that is, to act with honor, kindliness, generosity, etc. Oftentimes, however, this was definitely NOT the case (ask any medieval serf you know, and I'll bet she'd have a few good stories of oppression for you: kindly errare humanum est, truthfully absolute power corrupts absolutely). In politics a noble lie is a myth or untruth knowingly told by the nobles to maintain social harmony, particularly the social position said nobles. The noble lie, by the bye, was orginated by that great originator of ideas, Plato.
Since the nobles often did not live up to their noblesse oblige and so had to create the noble lie to maintain their thin reputations (at least in name), Romantic poets concocted the noble savage, or natural man, who was not corrupted at all by civilization or its Mammonic derivative money, but retained a kind of primitive, innate Goodness (the Platonic Idea of Good being all that is not evil, or at least some pertaining not to civilized human nobleness) with which native, unsullied instinct he acted nobly in all encounters with his fellow man, putting to shame all the nefarious acts of those nobles who acted so, well, ignobly. Lesser because civilized man would then, highly romantically, want to become ennobled by following and emulating the noble savage; this may have been the impetus, in its modern form, of the hippie (my very large cousin to the core). This golden primitivism, espoused by such authors as Milton, Montaigne, Rousseau, and Chateaubriand, attempted to glorify the ennobled man in his protypal state, bereft of and beyond the evil empires of those most dangerous English vocabulary words: capitalism, materialism, industrialism, and Elioticism. Later on chemists joined the game as well, creating the "noble gas," which by and large does not intermingle and thus stain itself with other elements (i.e. is practially inert), and the "noble metal," which is also resistant to oxidation and therefore corrosion and rust.
I'll leave it up to you to determine whether or not Shakespeare's and Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen in the guise of Palamon and Arcite (from Chaucer's Knight's Tale) were of the civilized nobility, or of the noble savage ilk.
For more word origins from Greek and Latin root words, take a gander at, the site that not only posts word lists of English vocabulary words, but also makes beautiful word trees of what is one of the most effective tools we humans possess, and one of the most intricate...and noble.