ETYNTOLOGY. Etymology throws great light upon antiquity, when used with a skilful hand; but few are sufficiently moderate and unbiassed to make a discreet use of it. Hence, like many other of the sciences, it has incurred considerable odium merely by the imprudence and intemperate zeal of its own friends. The Greeks were most extravagant punsters, and they published these productions of their own ingenuity with all the gravity of Harlequin or Pantaloon himself. Indeed, whether they were serious or in jest it is hard to say. If they were serious, they must have been uncommonly ignorant; if in jest, they were as grave as monkeys with their burlesque. They were uncommonly vain, and seemed to think their own language the most ancient in the world; therefore all their derivations were taken merely from their own tongue, although the words themselves were entirely foreign. Dean Swift has written a most admirable satire upon this etymological foolery, in his essay on the antiquity of the English language, in which he shows that Archimedes is derived from the three English words, “Hark, ye maids;” for this old philosopher during his study was very much annoyed with the gossip of his maid-servants, and he was frequently in the habit of calling out, “Hark, ye maids, can’t you cease your prattle !” And as he was in the habit of prefacing his complaint with the same three words invariably, they gave him the nickname of Archimedes. Alexander the Great also was very fond of roasted eggs, and it was his usual practice, when he re
turned to his tent, to roar out, “All eggs under the grate.” Hence arose the name of Alexander the Great; and hence also arises the proof of the antiquity of the English. The ancient Greeks inform us that there was a set of people with dogs’ heads, and another with no heads at all. Herodotus says so with great gravity, and he is the king of historians; and moreover we are told by Horus Apollo that these dog-headed people were kept by the Egyptians in their temples—that they could read and write—that they died piecemeal, and not all at once like other animals; and that they made water once an hour, or twelve times a-day, and this first suggested the idea of dividing the day into twelve hours. This ridiculous fable, however, is now very easily understood. The Greek word for these monsters is Kunocephaloi. The Kunes were the prophets or priests of the temple, as the Scholiast on Lycophrow informs us; and Cephalos, or Keph, or Caph, the rock on which the temples were built: the whole word in Egyptian referring merely to the inhabitants of the temple on the rocks, so built for astronomical observations. Moreover, the word “ouran,” which means heaven, and refers to celestial observations, is as like as possible the Greek word “ourein,” to make water, from which our word urine is derived. And as these celestial observations were made every hour, and reported or written in the books of the temple, we can easily interpret the ridiculous story of the “Kunocephaloi’ making “ouran” once an hour. “Acephaloi,” which in Greek means “without a head or heads,” in Egyptian has the same meaning as the former. When Diodorus Siculus therefore informs us that at the great solemnity of Isis, the Egyptian goddess, dogs went in front of the procession, it is difficult to determine whether they were really dogs or priests. The prophet saiah also confounds the two; for he says the priests are dumb dogs and greedy dogs; and St. Paul very gravely exhorts the Christians to “Beware of dogs.” It is reported of Socrates that his usual oath was “by the dog and the goose”—a most ridiculous oath for so grave a philosopher; but the words “kuna and chena,” which in Greek mean dog and goose, in Egyptian mean God and the Son of God, which transforms the oath of the philosopher from one of the most vulgar and contemptible to the most sublime and imposing which the human imagination can invent. Plato himself says that the “chema,” or “Cahen,” was an Egyptian god. The Greeks, however, studied no language but their own; they ascribed to every name a Grecian origin, and made up for the apparent inconsistency of their fanciful interpretation by some more fanciful and ridiculous fable. Many of our modern etymologists follow their example; and, by the help of a pretty large bump of comparison, continue to bestow upon words and things an origin as far from the literal truth as east is from the west. Etymology is a useful science when studied with caution and extensive information; but in the hands of a wag, or a bigoted partizan of any particular creed, it becomes nothing else than a burlesque upon literature, and an outrage upon common sense. Our word “sun” is most probably derived from the old Babylonish names “Sam, Son, Zon, Zaon,” which
mean the same thing; but still, the mere resemblance won’t prove it, for, upon the same principle of reasoning, our word “cur,” a dog, is derived from the Oriental word “kur,” a title of the sun. And “curtain” might be easily divided into two words, “cur” and “tin,” which mean an “altar of the sun,” between which and the use of a curtain there is only a very far-fetched resemblance. Chrus and Chrusaor and Chrisna and Christos are all very like each other, and all titles of Deity; but if you merely infer from the resemblance that they are one and the same thing, you may also demonstrate that the sun is only a cur dog, or that a cur dog is the light of the world. But then, you may reply, it is also said of Chrisna he was born of a virgin: so is the sun, to which all these words apply, which is born twice every year in the two equinoxes, the houses of justice. In the vernal equinox, he “rises out of the sea,” or the constellation of the fish, the fish’s belly; in the autumnal equinox, he is born of the virgin; he comes out of the sign Virgo. But when you have discovered this, how far have you got?—have you demonstrated that there was no such being as Christ? Don’t be so hasty: you have only got thus far—that there is a very curious resemblance between things in heaven and things on earth; but, more of this hereafter.