late-in-life realization

I’m 41 years old. And yet it only just occurred to me today, while playing The New York Times Spelling Bee, that the word “kneel” comes from the word “knee,” as in, to go down on one’s knees. I never in my life thought of them as etymologically related before. I guess that’s because knee has a long e sound and kneel has a different vowel sound — a diphthong? Still, you’d think that I would have connected it during one of the thousands of times I have knelt on my knees in my life.

Every once in a while, I have another one of these startling discoveries. How have I gone through four decades of life, and they are still happening? I guess it’s sort of fun, but it also makes me feel a little ditsy.

rire & sourire

adorable smile

It occurred to me the other day that sourire (smile) literally means ‘under-laugh’ (sous-rire). Something about that is so lovely.

I looked up the etymology and here’s what I found:

“Parce qu’il vient autant du cœur que de la raison, le sourire dit tout et son contraire. Première forme de langage non verbal, il crée instantanément du lien lorsqu’il est authentique, génère de l’inquiétude lorsqu’il est rictus ou provoque un malaise lorsqu’il est forcé.  …

Son étymologie est mal définie: du latin subridere, il viendrait ‘avant le rire,’ dont il serait un avatar inachevé et silencieux, esquissé et contenu. Le sourire ne serait-il qu’un sous-rire, un rire au rabais?

Avant de rire, nous avons souri. Le bébé sourit dès la naissance, alors que les premiers éclats de rire ne commencent qu’entre 4 et 8 mois. Sourire est un comportement inné, et non un apprentissage culturel. …

Le sourire est donc loin d’être une forme affaiblie du rire. … ‘Le sourire est la perfection du rire,’ écrit le philosophe Alain à propos de la plus subtile des expressions humaines.”

My butchery of an interpretation (corrections welcome!):

“Because it comes as much from the heart as from the mind, the smile tells us everything and nothing. The first form of non-verbal language, it instantly creates a connection when it is authentic, generates uneasiness when it is a grin, or provokes malaise when it is forced.

Its etymology is badly defined: from the latin subridere, it would come ‘before the laugh,” which would make it an unfinished and silent transformation, sketchy and contained. [Editor’s note: Wtf??] The smile would be but an under-laugh, a cheap laugh.

Before laughing, we smiled. The baby smiles from birth, while the first peels of laughter don’t occur until sometime between 4 and 8 months. To smile is something that happens on the inside, and not culturally learned behaviour.

The smile is therefore far from being a weakened form of laughter. ‘The smile is the perfection of laughter,’ writes philospher Alain about the most subtle of human expressions.”

Those French and their poetic way with language. (But, oh, what a mockery my translation makes of it.)

(Photo: My niece’s loveliest of smiles, surpassed only by her laughter.)