“In short, every adventure of the mind is an adventure vehicled by words. Every adventure of the mind is an adventure with words; every such adventure is an adventure among words; and occasionally an adventure is an adventure of words. It is no exaggeration to say that, in every word of every language — every single word or phrase of every language, however primitive or rudimentary or fragmentarily recorded, and whether living or dead- we discover an enlightening, sometimes a rather frightening, vignette of history; with such a term as water we find that we require a volume rather than a vignette. Sometimes the history concerned may seem to affect only an individual. But, as John Donne remarked in 1624, ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ History is not merely individual, it is collective or social; not only national, but international; not simply terrestrial, but universal. History being recorded in words and achieved partly, sometimes predominantly, by words, it follows that he who despises or belittles or does no worse than underestimate, the value and power, the ineluctable necessity of words, despises all history and therefore despises mankind (himself perhaps excluded). He who ignores the enduring power and the history of words ignores that sole part of himself which can, after his death, influence the world outside himself, the sole part that merits a posterity.”
From Adventuring Among Words (1961) by Eric Partridge (1894-1979), British lexicographer who wrote more than 40 books on English language, specifically etymology and slang. His magnum opus was A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English first published in 1937 (the 8th edition was published in 1984).
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