Word of the Day: ECONOMY

Word of the Day: ECONOMY

Here’s a word that needs redeeming, like POLITICAL. (By the way, I love the English locution “needs —ing,” active in form and passive in meaning: “That house needs fixing,” “That boy needs talking to.”) We now use it to refer to things titanic and megalopolitan in nature, like the Gross Domestic Product, and though I understand well that large movements in the global thing-or-other having to do with business transactions and governmental policies will have some influence upon a couple’s choices in the home, still we ought to remind ourselves once a day that the word’s first signification is still its most essential: the governance or MANAGEMENT of a HOUSEHOLD.

Here my most beloved writers upon culture line up powerfully: Burke and his small platoons; Lewis and his assertion that all law and economy is ultimately to make more frequent and more secure such scenes as a conversation with a friend, or husband and wife enjoying the play of their children; Tolkien and the hobbit-hole and “second breakfast”; Chesterton the champion of Notting Hill; Sigrid Undset’s capable and life-endowing mistress of Husaby; Dickens’ shrewd suspicion of ideology of all sorts while he examines intently the moral habits that make for an hospitable home and a thriving and human business.

It is therefore upside down to teach our children that their prospects for family life ought to be subordinate to their careers. Work is for the family: “No man,” said that heroic poet Charles Peguy, “works if not on behalf of his children.” That was a little over a hundred years ago. Peguy would die in the first battles of World War I, giving his life for the men he led. He could not have foreseen a time in which men and women would want children out of the way so that they might work. Foolish people have sometimes believed that being rich would make them happy. We now believe that sacrificing happiness may make you rich. The old belief was folly. The new belief is madness. Sad too, and lonely.

The word comes straight from Greek: OIKONOMIA > Latin OECONOMIA, and is made of two parts. The first is OIKOS, HOUSEHOLD, cognate with Latin VICUS, something more than a village and less than a county; a township, sort of; Italian VICO. Also cognate with Anglo Saxon WIC, borrowed I think from Latin back in the early Roman occupation of southern Britain; common in English place names with palatalized and un-palatalized C: SANDWICH, WARWICK, NORWICH, FENWICK. See also the VIK in Scandinavian names, including VIKING itself. The second part, NOMOS, LAW, has to do with allotting a just portion, and is cognate with Anglo Saxon NIMAN, German NEHMEN, to TAKE. A thief who is deft with his fingers is thus NIMBLE (the B is not original; a hardening of the bilabial M), with the common frequentative addition -LE (e. g., RIPPLE, SHUTTLE, WOBBLE).

So the words ECONOMY, WARWICK, and NIMBLE are all distant cousins. Tell that shoplifter in the airport in Rhode Island …

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