The Power of Forgotten Words
On a recent visit to London, I passed the monument to Edith Louisa Cavell (1865-1915) in St. Martin’s Place, in the heart of London. It struck me that not only the figure of Cavell (who nursed hundreds of British and German soldiers during World War I, but was eventually executed by the latter) but the words on the monument were probably almost totally alien to the average Londoner. And those words were intended to represent Cavell’s character and, perhaps, the character of anyone going through times of difficulty.
On the four sides of the monument are the words humanity, sacrifice, devotion, and fortitude. Most of us would like to think we know what “humanity” means (and, perhaps, “devotion” as well) but how many of us really know what “fortitude” or “sacrifice” means?
Every word represents an idea. Some words represent entire ways of thinking or being. If we think about “sacrifice” at all, today, we probably imagine it means giving up something reluctantly. But the word stems from the Latin term sacrificium and sacrificus meaning “to make sacred,” from sacra “sacred rites.”
Fortitude, likewise, comes from the Latin fortitudo, meaning “strength” or “force,” etc., from fortis “strong,” “brave,” etc., and is related to our word “fortify” (meaning “to make stronger”).
It is always interesting to think about what words are disappearing from society. It might tell us where it is headed, or what it is no longer prepared for. Certainly, the majority appear to be heading away from the concept of fortitude (which might imply self-reliance) in the hope that others will protect them. They will not, of course.
Language changes. But human nature remains the same. While others forget, if we can recall the words (and concepts) of those who lived through difficult times before us, we will be far more equipped to survive and thrive in those difficult times ahead.
Results may vary from person to person.