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The Eymological Corner

Katarzyna Koźma

Peace

If you have read any of my texts before you have probably noticed that the topic of
each article is inspired by something that is going on in my academic, professional or
personal life. This month’s text is no different. Being European, living so close to the
Ukrainian boarder it is impossible not to follow the news, not to worry about my neighbours,
about tomorrow. That is why, in this issue I am writing about something that Ukraine, and the
world at large, needs desperately right now: peace.

The English word peace, as well as Italian pace, French paix, and Spanish paz can be
traced back to Latin pax, which signified “the absence of war, state of tranquillity”. This in
turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European *pag-: the idea of being bound by an agreement or
a treaty. The root *pag-, or *pak-, can be also found in the etymology of words like appease,
pact, pacifier, or pay.

In Slavic languages, the word for peace derives from the Proto-Slavic *mȋrъ, meaning
both peace and world. There are many descendants of this original term: Ukrainian мир,
Russian мир, Croatian mir, Bulgarian мир, and many, many others. Interestingly, the word
for peace and world is the same only in Slavic languages. In Polish, the word mir does exist
but is rather obsolete and used only in literary texts. The contemporary term is pokój, which,
interestingly also has a double meaning: peace and a room. Pokój comes for Proto-Slavic
*pokojь, which originally meant “rest, break from work”. The second meaning is strictly
linked to the first one. Room was seen as a place where you could achieve your inner peace,
and take some rest without being distracted.

Let’s now take a quick look at the word pacifism, meaning “policy of rejecting all
forms of violence and war”. The term, in the social and political sense, first come to be in

  1. Originally a French word, pacifisme, it was coined by a French anti-war writer Émile
    Arnaud. The noun comes from a much older adjective pacifique, or pacific in English. This is
    exactly the same word that we find in the Pacific Ocean. A famous Portuguese sailor and
    explorer called it Mar Pacifico, a peaceful sea, as it was much calmer than anticipated.

Etymology can often teach us more than we can expect. The fact that so many
languages have similar-sounding, cognate words for peace reminds us yet again that there is
more that unites us than separates us. Let’s hope that we will soon see the word living in
peace. At least for a brief moment.

If you want to know more…
…about the motif of peace in music – Imagine by John Lennon. I am not going to be very
original here. I suppose that nearly everyone knows this classic. However, sometimes it is
important to go back to things that we know and appreciate them again. Let’s imagine all the
people / Livin’ life in peace…

…about the motif of peace in art – Peace Poppies, the National Museums Liverpool on
Google Arts & Culture. The motif of peace in art is as old as humanity itself. This time, I
would like to share with you something interesting I found while doing research for this
article. White, silk poppies, that are now part of the National Museums Liverpool collection,
date back to the First World War and were meant to be worn by women who lost their
relatives. Take a look at this beautiful objects, they are well-worth your attention.
…about the history of the peace sign – ‘History of the Symbol’ on the Campaign for Nuclear
Disarmament website – We have all seen the famous circle with a line and a reversed V
inside. Deemed satanic or fascist by some, the sign can sometimes cause a lot of
controversies. However, the history of the design is clear and much less mysterious. If you
want to learn a little bit more about it take a look at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
website.

If you’d like to read about the etymology of a word or phrase that intrigues, you send it to
magazine@sillylinguistics.com or our twitter (@EtymologicalThe) or Instagram
(the_etymological_corner) accounts! Although we can’t promise that we’ll be able to answer
all questions we can certainly promise that we can give it a go!

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