Because Words are Wyrd: What’s in a name?

I, I. FOG & MIST WINDING THROUGH THE LEAVES OF A GREAT TREE. ENTER THE THREE WYRDES FROM AN OPENING IN THE GROUND AT THE ROOTS OF THE TREE. THEY GATHER AROUND A WELL INTO WHICH THEY GAZE INTENTLY.

WYRD2: There come the maids who much do know;

WYRD0: Three from the hall beneath the Tree (Yggdrasil);

WYRD1: One they named Was (Urd),

WYRD2: And Being next (Verðandi)

WYRD0: The third Shall (Skuld) be.

–The Völuspá, Ebenezer Henderson Translation

[EXEUNT, THE WYRDES. ENTER THE READERS INTO THE WRITER’S BLOG

WRITER: Welcome! Do you have a steaming, hot beverage and a comfortable chair to sit in?

READER1: Uh, yes, I do actually.

WRITER: Good! Because In today’s post I invite you to delve into the etymology of the meaningful words forming the title of this blog with me: Word and Wyrd.

READER1: Finally.

READER2: Yeah, finally!

WRITER: [Laughs out loud.] Whoah, I actually have more than one reader now!

READER2: Oh, stop. I’ve been lurking around this blog for a while.

WRITER: All right then, as we all seem to be on the same page, let’s get started.

READER1 & READER2: Sounds good.

WRITER: Have you ever considered this?

Destiny. Fate. Blind Chance. The Wheel of Fortune. Divine Intelligence. Strange Attraction. Living Mind. Whatever you choose to clepe it, in some sense there is a force beyond our control and barely within the realm of our comprehension that has guided this encounter during this cyber space-time interaction we are having. Wouldn’t you agree?

The Norns (1889) by Johannes Gehrts. Image Source: Wikipedia

READER:1 Yeah, I guess so.

WRITER: The Anglo-Saxon speaking ancestors of our modern English tongue called this force Wyrd, which means ‘destiny’ or ‘fate.’ We’ll look at the entry for that soon. Let’s examine word first.

According to my dictionary the word word has the following derivation:

word. n. pl. words [ME. < OE., akin to G.wort < IE. *werdh- (extenstion of base *wer- to speak, say), whence L. verbum, a word] 1. a) a speech sound, or series of them, serving to communicate meaning and consisting of at least one base morpheme with or without prefixes, or suffixes…etc.

–Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, (c) 1980

Since you’ve been reading this blog for a while READER1, you probably can decode the entry yourself. Will you explain to READER2 what the shorthand means?

READER1: I would be delighted to! Let’s see. Word is a noun. Its plural is words. It came from Indo-European by way of Old English and then Middle English. It is related to the German word for word, wort.

WRITER: Nicely done! You’re really catching on to this stuff. Think of how good it feels to be able to completely understand your dictionary and have a sense of where your words come from.

Is that all of it?

READER1: There’s more. Continuing. English word and the German wort come from the Indo-European form, *werdh-. And let’s see. The asterisk means…what does the asterisk mean again?

WRITER: Good question! The asterisk on the Indo-European form means that linguists have reconstructed that word from a comparison of cognate words. Briefly, cognates are words from the same source language with the same meanings in the differing languages that descend from that parent language, which means in this case, Indo-European. *werdh- is an extension of an earlier reconstructed Indo-European form.  And by reconstructed, we mean that the word does not appear in writing of any kind. Linguists have had to make educated guesses based on well-known sound changes what the root word might have sounded like in a pre-historic language. So, that’s what the asterisk means in a nutshell. In linguistics speak, we’d say that the word is not attested (found in a written source).

READER1: Oh, okay. So then moving on, the Latin word for word, verbum, also comes from Indo-European*werdh-.

WRITER: Yes, and verbum and word are cognates, just to be absolutely clear, because they derive from the same parent and have the same meaning in the daughter languages.

READER2: Wait. What is Indo-European again?

WRITER: The short answer is: it’s the proposed parent language from which the Celtic, Latin, Greek, Germanic, Sanskrit, Slavic, Russian and the Indo-Iranian daughter languages, to name a few, come. Here’s a video from Langfocus, which I included in my very first post. It explains what the Indo-European language is in greater detail, and quite well, I might add. Thank you, READER1, you did an excellent job! I’ll take it from here.

READER1: You’re welcome!

WRITER: As far back as comparative and historical linguists can reconstruct, the word for word has always meant ‘to speak’ or ‘say’. As you may be aware, this is not always the case. Sometimes words undergo significant changes in form (phonetic, phonological, morphological or otherwise) and meaning, as is the case with the next significant word to form the title of this blog. Its meaning has definitely changed a bit.

READER1 & READER2: Wyrd!

READER2: Great, we finally get to find out what the heck is this wyrd you keep talking about.

WRITER: I’m sure most of you are aware I explain that on the page entitled About Words are Wryd. However, for the benefit of new readers I’m going to repeat some of that, mostly verbatim (<<also related), now.

Wyrd is a concept found in various pieces of Anglo-Saxon literature, most famously the epic of Beowulf (about which we’ve written at least twice so far, here, and here). An example from the poem is found in the line:

GaeS a wyrd swa hio scel.
— Fate goes ever as it must.

— Beowulf, line 455.

Some scholars have argued that the entire poem is about the concept of Wyrd.

Wyrd has an analogue in Scandinavian mythology as a goddess figure–one of the three Norns–known as Urd or Urðr. She represented the strand of Fate that was the goddess of viking past, so to speak. The Norns, who were the weavers of the Fate of men and gods alike, were subject to an even greater power than themselves. This concept or power was known as ørlǫg; that which is ‘beyond law.’ The idea of ørlǫg reminds me of the seven Hermetic principles, which are a set of purportedly cosmic laws said to govern all the activities and workings of the Universe, including those of gods and men and women and demons and angels and planets and stars and animals and spirits and whatever else is of the cosmic order. The most succinct expression of these principles in my experience can be found in a book known as the Kybalion.

A poster for the Norwegian women’s magazine Urd by Andreas Bloch and Olaf Krohn. Image Souce: Wikipedia

By the time we get to the Middle English period we find Chaucer, of the Canterbury Tales fame, pluralizing wyrd into the Wirdes, and extending that word to encompass, in a sense, all three of the Fates or Norns. The most famous line of his concerning Wyrd is:

“The wirdes that we clepen (call) Fate.”

–Chaucer, the Legend of Good Women

Shakespeare’s famous “three witches’ in the play Macbeth have historical and literary ties to the very Wyrdes we are talking about here, though in his conception of things they take on a decidedly darker aspect.

To encapsulate the history of wyrd from the Anglo-Saxon concept, through the Germanic and Scandinavian Goddesses, up into the more modern Shakespearean notion, I commissioned the cover art you see for my blog from my friend, Laurel Bushman. (If you enjoy it, you can see more of her work HERE. It’s stunning!)

The etymology of Wyrd is the same as its modern reflex in English, weird:

weird adj. [ME. werde, orig. n., Fate < OE. wyrd, Fate, < base of weorthan, to become (basic sense “what is to come”) < IE. *wert-, to turn, whence -ward, L. vertere, to turn] 1. Orig. of Fate or Destiny. 2….

–Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, (c) 1980

READER1: It’s kinda, forgive the pun, weird that in Old English it comes from a word that meant “what is to come,” but in Scandinavian it ended up becoming the name of the Norn that represented the past.

WRITER: You’re getting ahead of us, which means you can now decode the entries yourself! And what you just described is in essence what a reflex is, as opposed to a cognate. Cognates mean more or less the same thing or have taken the same etymological path in meaning in different languages, whereas reflexes have a common source, but may come to mean different things. Sometimes drastically different.

Continuing on with decoding the entry: In plain English: weird comes to us from Middle English. It was originally a noun meaning ‘Fate,’ and before that it was an Old English form spelled with a ‘y’ instead of an ‘e’ where it still meant ‘Fate.” The Old English base form of the noun appears to be an infinitive, weorthan, having a basic sense of ‘what is to come’ in the future. This Old English form has been traced back to the Indo-European parent language as being derived from*wert-. This is a reconstructed form meaning ‘to turn.’ Or perhaps it’s better to say ‘to orient one’s self or an object toward.’ *wert- is also the source from which we derive the suffix -ward as in ‘onward, forward, inward, outward, etc.’

READER2: Really? Wow.

WRITER: Yes, really! Using only the modern definitions of weird and -ward would you ever have imagined that they have a common root or ancestor?

READER1: I wouldn’t have.

READER2: Me either.

WRITER: Well. The person, corporation, and/or company of writers known as “Shakespeare” certainly knew that. Or guessed it, or had an incredible synchro-mystical event when he/she/it/they originally named the infamous Weird Sisters in Macbeth as the Weyward Sisters in the First Folio Edition (about which –Ha! get it? Which…witch…okay nevermind– you can read HERE in the 1904 essay by Albert Harris Tolmon).

Théodore Chassériau – Musée d’Orsay: Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches for the first time. Image Source: Wikipedia

READER2: Shakespeare was a genius.

WRITER: Or perhaps a collection of geniuses, like a collection of sitcom writers.

READER1: *wert- and *werdh- look and sound almost the same.

WRITER: Good observation! And perhaps not accidentally the word verse, as in “a verse of poetry” or “the second verse” of the song, or the “Universe,” comes from the same root as -ward and weird. But my dictionary doesn’t take the extra step of linking word, -ward, and verse back to an ultimate root. Why don’t you have a look at the entries for both word and wyrd again? I suspect the common Indo-European source for both words is the one given for verse: *wer- ‘to turn, wind.’

READER1: And that’s definitely the one given for weird!

WRITER: Indeed. Regardless, whether by accident or design the similarity of those two words at their roots in Indo-European is the biggest reason I chose the name I did for this blog. Words ARE wyrd, which means when words are uttered (or thought) they orient us toward (and often away from) some object. Some goal. Some desire. And conversely, they clue us in to the purported goal, object, or desire (or lack thereof) of the people who say them. They help us make sense of the present and construct our future.

READER2: Hey, and in the case of recall or memory they point us to the past!

WRITER & READER1: Yes!

Some of my favorite writers, such as H.P, Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, and Robert E. Howard contributed short stories to the infamous pulp magazine Weird Tales. Image Source: Wikipedia.

WRITER: We see that weird in the modern sense has semantically drifted quite a bit from its original meaning and morphed into a description of something meaning strange, a little off, and perhaps to be avoided because it’s out of the norm. “Supernatural” is another thing it’s come to mean.

READER1: That makes sense.

WRITER: Agreed. Can you imagine what the original meanings of the words we examine seem to say about human consciousness at that dim, distant time in the past and what those changes in meaning seem to suggest about changes in the mindset of the contiguous generations of language speakers?

READER2: What do you mean?

WRITER: Well, for example, in the post entitled Jonah and the Tale of a Whale, we looked briefly at the etymology of the word priest and found that it originally meant ‘lead ox.’ What the heck does that say about how people thought about priests? What was their function? How did they execute that function? Why that particular title and not some other? I mean, what does being a figurative ‘lead ox’ have to do with performance of religious duties? These are the kinds of questions that arise in my mind every time I look at an etymology.

READER2: Oh, I see. And that’s always your jumping off point for your wyrd conjectures.

WRITER: Yes! Another interesting one, since we’ve somehow arrived at the topic of religion again, is bless or blessing.

READER2: How so?

WRITER: Why don’t we take a look at the etymology really quickly?

bless vt. [ME. blessen, bletsien < OE. bletsian, or bledsian < blod, blood: rite of consecration by sprinkling the altar with blood] 1. to make or declare holy by a spoken formula or a sign; hallow; consecrate.

–Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, (c) 1980

READER1: WTF! So does that mean every time someone sneezes we’re telling them we’re gonna sprinkle blood on them?

ALL: [Laugh out loud.]

WRITER: No. Not when we say it now, because the modern definition has semantically drifted quite a bit from the original meaning of its root. But it definitely gets one imagining what that Ye Olde Tyme Religion must have been like.

READER2: So, back in the day, in order to be considered holy, some person, place, or thing had to be sprinkled with blood?

WRITER: So it seems. And that sprinkling was done by the ‘lead ox.’

READER1: Wow, man, I’ll never look at my priest the same way again.

READER2: What am I supposed to say to people who sneeze now?

WRITER: [Laughs out loud.] Perhaps, you’ll find the German, gesundheit, more to your liking?

READER1: Or Spanish, salud

WRITER: Okay, we risk getting way off track here. Returning to the wyrdness of words, have you heard aphorisms such as “be careful what you wish for you just might get it (thoughts and wishes most times involve words either spoken in the mind or out loud)?” or “the pen is mightier than the sword?” or “keep your word,” or “the universe is spoken into existence,” or that famous verse in the Bible (which we examined HERE.) “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God (John 1:1)?”

READER1 & READER2: Yeah.

WRITER: All these pithy sayings get at the idea that words have causal power.

And so, we have arrived at the name of this blog, Words are Wyrd. They are, according to ancient wisdom and modern marketing techniques, capable of shaping Fate or destiny when wielded with skill and purpose. Wouldn’t you agree that as a practical matter words have this power?

READER2: Yeah, I suppose so. But what are you getting at?

WRITER: You might agree that a court order, a business plan, the Constitution of the United States of America, or an Amazon wish list–these all have definite power to shape outcomes in the real world through the agency of human consciousness and action.

READER1: Well, yeah, that does seem kind of obvious.

WRITER: So we agree! And if they have this power when used consciously, then doesn’t it stand to reason that they all too often haphazardly shape our destinies when we fail to consider the importance of words, their histories, their meanings, their teleological properties, and their use?

READER1: Their tele-what nows?

WRITER: Teleological properties. Telos is a concept from ancient Greek philosophy that means ‘purpose, or goal.’ Imagine that, like a seed, some concept or belief “begins with the end in mind.” And the purpose or goal is contained in the seed itself, as I discussed in The Truth about Druids; Wisdom of the Trees, Part 1. Doesn’t the disruptive force of words seem especially prevalent when people have more or less forgotten the True Sense of the words which they both use or which get used against them?

READER1: Can you put that another way? I’m not sure I follow.

WRITER: It’s a basic tenet of the so-called “New-Thought” movement that “thoughts become things.” As I’ve mentioned before, most (but not all) thoughts occur as words in our heads and if we’re not careful about what words we think or where these thoughts and words are coming from and how they’re entering our subconscious minds, the results could range from annoying to disastrous in terms of our behavior. Because most human behavior is subconsciously driven rather than consciously driven (as the work of biologist Bruce Lipton has demonstrated), we run the risk of living a life we don’t want to live when we fail to understand these properties of word and mind.

READER2: Wow, man. This is starting to get super weird.

READER1: Yeah, it usually does. He refers to it as Wyrd.

WRITER: [Smiling.] This might be slightly off topic, but I’m reminded of a line uttered by the character, Cyril Grey, in Aleister Crowley’s enigmatic occult novel, Moon Child. I almost used this quote as the tagline for my blog.

“The most exquisite deceit of the Devil is to lure you from the plain meaning of words.”

This quote sums up the challenge this blog is trying to meet: can we find our way back to the “plain meaning” of our words instead of using them or allowing them to be used in a haphazard, or dare I say hazardous, way? Putting it differently, can we rediscover the True Sense of our words?

READER2: I hope so!

WRITER: Me too. The situation in our modern electronic frequency-saturated and social-media driven world has become dire. People have difficulty speaking and comprehending plainly.

READER2: Why do you suppose that is?

WRITER: The short answer, methinks, is shortened attention spans. The slightly longer conjecture I have is this: because people don’t know the plain meaning of words; or, conversely, their interlocutors don’t know the plain meaning of words; or, perhaps even worse, they’ve been lured from the plain meaning of words. Just like Crowley said. The “Devil” (as a metaphor for any person or entity that seeks to lead one astray) uses words paired with some kind of well-known psychological techniques to accomplish nefarious ends.

READER1: Here comes the conspiracy theory!

WRITER: [Grinning.] We will pick that phrase,”conspiracy theory”, apart some day soon. For now, would you consider watching this video to get an idea of the history of advertising and propaganda? Because, like me, you might find it extremely enlightening. It gives some interesting context for what I’m talking about here. The more you understand that such techniques exist and how long they have been employed against you, the more you begin to understand how important the “plain meaning” of words are and how you can guard your mind against such unwanted intrusions. Interestingly, that video comes from this channel. But that specific video seems to have been removed from the channel of the TouYouber that originally made and posted it, or at least it seems to have been removed from the search algorithms that lead directly to his channel. This one is on a channel that mirrored his content, at the maker’s request. He predicted that many of his videos would be removed, or deliberately obscured. At any rate, would you consider watching it now? Because it might disappear. Soon. I might add since today is Martin Luther King day, the creator ends that video with a quote from the good Reverend Doctor.

Image Source: Audible. Edward Bernays is considered the father of modern “public relations.” Bernays was pretty up front about there being an invisible government of sorts that uses public opinion to sway and influence the crowd and so become de facto rulers of a democracy. Don’t believe me? Watch that video and get it from the horse’s mouth.

READER1 & READER2: [Both watch video, immediately.]

READER1: Wow, so that guy was related to Sigmund Freud?

WRITER: His nephew.

READER2: “Freedom torches?”

WRITER: [Laughs out loud.] Right? Yes, Bernays basically married the women’s liberation movement to the act of smoking. He opened up a whole new area of market share to the cigarette industry by busting the taboo of women smoking in public and equating “equal rights” with woman being able to smoke. That resulted in about a 50% increase in users by getting the other half of the population to buy into the smoking fad. Genius, no?

READER1: Devious, more like. Those “authority” studies just seem awful.

WRITER: Once more, we agree. And the whole big breakfast thing…it was an inorganic fad, fabricated by the wizard of advertising to boost bacon sales.

READER2: Dammit, you’re making me depressed. I love bacon!

WRITER: I know, I know. But have you ever wondered just how much of what we think are our original or our culture’s thoughts were fabricated by the mad wizards of Madison Avenue or elsewhere? Now, either due to intellectual laziness, or because the Orwellian double-speaking sorcerers of the scientanic, technocratic elite that we met in that video have succeeded in socially engineering our devolution as a species (It’s like the Tower of Babel incident all over again). The priests of the Rex Mundi have gone to great lengths to keep the meaning of words and symbols anything but simple, or at least simply understood. All while using simple words to bypass your “internal critic” (see links at end of article) and slip a concept easily into your subconscious.

Image Source: Audible. A book that was the foundation of modern propaganda and advertising. Bernays studied this extensively. As did the Nazis and the subsequent American Empire.

READER1: Like that movie Inception!

WRITER: Exactly! Once implanted squarely in your subconscious, the concept takes root and begins to blossom into a tree in your mind that you didn’t plant yourself. Like the Eucalyptus tree in California, those implanted word-seeds have grown into a gigantic invasive species with a root system running through the collective unconscious of humanity via the massive reach of entities like Hollywood or the news media.

READER1: [Grinning.] “Priests of the Rex Mundi?” Don’t you mean the “lead oxes?”

READER2: The correct plural is oxen; even I know that!

READER1: Say, why is that?

WRITER: Very good question! That is definitely the kind of thing historical linguists look at. It has to do with the “schwaification” or weakening of the stress on the last syllable where the morpheme that indicated the plural of nouns got tacked on in older versions of English versus the conservative nature of words such as children, oxen, or kine (irregular declension), which retained their original declensional endings.

READER1: I’m lost.

READER2: Me too.

That’s okay. I talked a bit about noun declension in the post entitled Strange Relations#2: Germanic Folk Monsters and Whales? It’s the kind of technical sound change stuff you learn in a historical linguistics class. Let’s just suffice it to say that those words survived a general historical sound change in English, because they were so frequently used at the time the change was happening. They resisted the transformation and so maintained their more traditional forms.

READER2: Man, words really are weird. At least English ones.

WRITER: Like people, every language has its idiosyncracies that manifest as exceptions to general rules.

All right, well, I think this post has gone on long enough. I’m going to summarize the main points here:

Word derives from the Indo-European root *wert-, while wyrd derives from the root *werdh-. I believe it’s possible that both these words have a common root in the Indo-European form *wer-, from which we get words such as verse (as in poetry and song) and Universe.

READER1: Hey, there’s that idea of the Logos again!

WRITER: Great observation! We talked about Logos and the idea that the operative principle or power of the Universe is often equated with the Word in the post Is the Logos a LEECH1? And “Is Logic Just a Synonym for this Savagery?” You’re really starting to get the hang of Wyrd.

READER1: Thank you!

Cover of the first edition. Chomsky is featured in that video discussing from where the authors got the title. Image Source: Wikipedia

WRITER: I’m just gonna leave these links here for you to go through and ponder, because I think it’s important to understand how we all can be manipulated through words via a deep understanding of human psychology. This stuff is science, as you just learned from that video. And it is studied intently by people who aim to use this science against you. Or at least for their gain at your expense. And quite literally when you end up spending money on something you didn’t need, but were convinced you must have. Of course, they justify it in the name of marketing or what have you. It’s as if the sorcerers of marketing, advertising and propaganda have hijacked the archetypal roles of the Norns, or Wyrdes, or the Fates and superimposed themselves over the natural laws that govern social and historical processes. They’ve become weavers of the faux dialectic, or a class of False Norns, or something to that effect.

We all, myself included, might feel the need to employ powerful techniques of persuasion from time to time. I specifically did that in this post, as a matter of fact. But like most tools, these techniques can be used for good or for evil. We can’t really imagine a better way for our lives until we understand how much of what we think, believe, or know doesn’t originate in our own minds. How much of our thinking is the result of someone else’s hypnotic suggestion? How much is an inception implanted by a dream thief? Why do we so willingly surrender our power to people who don’t have our best interests at heart?

READER1: Because we’re stupid?

WRITER: No! Well, sometimes. But more often than not it’s because those who have studied and understand human psychology much better than we, and have mastered how to use words and psychological techniques to manipulate us, have bypassed our “internal critic.” When you take marketing classes, they tell you straight up that’s what they’re doing. But, c’est la vie! Isn’t it time you learned how to psychologically defend yourself?

I’ll leave you with these links. Won’t you check them out? I’ll see youse again soon!

Hypnotic Power of words

15 Highly Effective Hypnotic Words

20 Most Powerful Hypnotic Marketing Techniques

The CIA’s Global Propaganda Network –

#PropagandaWatch

[THUNDER. ENTER THE THREE WYRDES, SPEAKING TO THE READERS

WYRD1: Now that you know what marketing is, we hope your Fate some thought you will give!

WYRD2: This being election year 2020 too, don’t let hindsight get the better of you

WYRD0: And If this project seems joyous to you, make sure you subscribe on social media too. Below, you will find links, so don’t miss anything!

WYRD1: Please like, share, subscribe to a platform or two, so the Words are Wyrd blog’s known the whole world through!

ALL: We live to take flights of fancy with you and explore the idea that Words are Wryd too!

EXEUNT, THE WYRDES. READER CLICKS LINK OF CHOICE ON WRITER’S BLOG]