Saturday, January 17, 2009

#1: spiro, spirare, spiravi, spiratum: to breathe

One of the most common things that we do as human beings is move. Many of the early Ind0-European roots have to do with verbs of movement, such as the breath that moves in and out of us. Many words have to do with this most basic of human needs, such as in the following Latin roots:

Spiro, spirare, spiravi, spiratum—to breathe {spiro-}
Spiritus—breath, the soul, vigor, that which animates life

The breath is of paramount importance in the practice, for instance, of yoga; following one's breath is a path to nowness, or samu, that is, the concentration only on what is going on during the present moment, and not worrying about that which happened in the past, or becoming frazzled about that which may happen in the future. Let's discover how many important English vocabulary words exist based upon this archetypal act:

Have you ever felt inspired to write a poem? The muse, perhaps Calliope herself, has "breathed" that desire "into" you, thereby giving you the inspiration to do so {when an artist has an inspiration, an idea has been etymologically ‘breathed into’ her mind}. One can also find some things, such as certain movies or tv shows, completely uninspiring, that is, "no breath" has been put "into" one, leaving one feeling unenthusiastic or just plain vanillaed.

The spirit is that which has been "breathed" into us, thus animating (from the Latin animus: mind, soul, spirit) us, giving the power to move and live. Much has been said in religious and philosophical circles concerning the spirit or soul, which has the same tenuousity as the breath, but also the same undeniable essence that forms who we are (indeed, although the wind is manifestly invisible, it nevertheless exerts tremendous force,and hopefully, via wind turbines, will help to aid and abet the world in its search for clean and renewable energy). Hence, the spiritual life concerns the breath, a nice segue back to clearing the sem (the sem, or flea mind, is a term that yoginis use to describe that nagging part of our minds that has over 60,000 random, desultory thoughts per day if allowed to have full reign over our mental faculties), and hence that which originally breathed life into us, or that from which we came (the word religion itself means a "linking back," via the Latin verb ligo, ligare: to tie--yes, same root for ligament and ultimately league). William Wordworth's Intimations of Immortality is such a wonderful poem to remind us of our glorious beginnings, and hopefully not our complete removal from this luminescent transcendence. How striking it is that something we must do every moment of our lives has such far reaching implications is we would only pay attention to its simple power.

Have you ever spent a glorious day hiking in the Green Mountains of Vermont? If so, your skin probably "thoroughly breathed," hence perspired; perspiration is thereby "the act of breathing through" the pores of the skin for the purposes of evaporative cooling, which efficiently carries off the heat of the body via water. Sometimes this is unwanted, especially via autonomous dysfunction, at which point anti-perspirant comes in most handy.

Did you enjoy all the subsidiary words talked about in the above post? If so, check out this Greek and Latin roots and English vocabulary words site, sure to whet your appetite for the core of the English language. Interested in a Greek and Latin roots poster that features the above Latin root? Or more beautiful Greek and Latin root word trees that list 100s of English derivatives? For the verbal enthusiast serious about learning his English vocabulary, there is no quicker route to learning and remembering our wonderful English language.