Jefferson Journal of Psychiatry


The use of words by an individual or culture is subject to the very same psychological forces that drive man's other activities . Hence, the history of a word's usage becomes a telling record of the mental processes of its creators and users, both conscious and unconscious. Etymology, as Freud has observed in his dreambook (1900), contributes significantly to our understanding of the deeper layers of the psyche . Let us take the word "rival," for example, and see how we may make use of etymological data. It is derived from the Latin "riva lis," I which originally meant "one sharing a stream" or "neighbor, companion, aid" (Oxford English Dictionary, 197 1; Shipley, 1984, p. 333). When Shakespeare has Bernardo say:

If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus , The rivals of my watch , bid them make haste (Hamlet, Act 1, Sc. i, 11. 13- 14)

"rival" is used in just this sense: companion, help meet, colleague. Yet this meaning is now obsolete. Today to declare someone a rival is to brand him or her a competitor, someone with whom one struggles, a foe, an enemy. The inevitable dark side of human relations is thus revealed: proximity implies danger, friends may betray, neighbors attack.

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