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Trifling, trivial. Between equally beneficial arrangements it may be trivial to choose, but it cannot be trifling.
Satisfy, appease. The one supposes a natural appetite and legal demand, the other an unnatural craving, and an inordinate disposition.
Continue, remain. You may continue or remain in a room, but a machine cannot continue standing still, nor can it remain going.
Certain, secure. The former implies that which is so discerned that we have ample evidence of it; the latter that about which, as perfectly settled, we need entertain no care. A Scottish preacher once commenting on the frequent passage which occurs in Scripture, a certain man, gravely remarked that whoever he was he must have been a married man, for no other man can be certain. But if secure involves the absence of care, you will readily grant that a man may be certain without being
Favourable, propitious. We apply the earlier phrase to human kindness, while the other is referred to what is perfectly independent of us, as the weather and the seasons, or to the Divine regard towards us. Propitious is from prope, near,built upon the natural idea that He who protects us must be
near to us.
Holyday, vacation, recess. All may direct to one meaning, but they cannot be used promiscuously. Every holyday is not a vacation, nor every vacation a holyday. A recess is open to the same remarks;—a going back,—a returning, if so the school-boy will construe it, home.
From this rapid collation it will appear that our synonyms are not esteemed by us as very regular or true; and yet there is no reason to think them less so than in other languages. Indeed it was not to be expected that these should be numerous, save as men will speak unadvisedly. A few of the strictest order of such expression are mere translations:-Signify, mean: latent, hid: impel, urge: dilate, widen: incipient, beginning: oblivion, forgetfulness timidity, fear: at the same time, contemporaneous, synchronous. Sometimes the synonym must be taken with
out a very scrupulous attention to propriety. When Lord Nelson's ship was rolling into the action off Trafalgar, he gave orders that his memorable signal should be made to the fleet. The signal-book was hurriedly searched, but one word was wanting to complete the Hero's rallying cry: England confides that every man shall do his duty. The Lieutenant called aloud he could not do confides, but there was an expects. Be it so, was the Admiral's reply; and the signal instantly streamed on high to the wind,—a meteor-omen glaring upon the foe,-the motto of a fame, the pledge of a victory, never to be forgotten until the only triumphs shall belong to peace, and the only spoils shall be gathered by benevolence,-when men shall learn war no more!
The etymology of words will be often unimportant in determining their synonymous character. It would be extravagant to dwell upon the primitives, now that the uses of the derivatives are so greatly alienated. What have we to do with folds and war, when we employ simplicity and sincerity? The meaning of fossil was once given as any thing dug out of the earth;-then a potatoe is a fossil, and the profaners of the grave are but fossil-collectors.-Though each of the following words has a beautiful original allusion, it is in vain to contend for it among circumstances in which it is lost:-Observation, consideration, contemplation, meditation, investigation, musing. Observation, waiting as a servant for the mandate: consideration, gazing as on a star: contemplation, solemnly affected, as in a temple: meditation, fixed in the middle of the subject: investigation, pursuing all the footmarks, as over a difficult track: musing, rapt as by the most engaging harmony. If a person were to decompose the word atonement, at-onement, (which is indubitably its formation) and were to reason upon it, we should all perceive that its common use was the only guide in dispute; and much controversy of all kinds would be avoided were we to follow out the common conventional import of words, and leave questions about original roots to the subordinate place which they only deserve.
No person who reads ancient and modern English can
forbear to observe how different is the style of different periods. Elevate once meant to diminish, now to exalt. Prevent was to go before. Reduce was to bring back. Persecute was to follow thoroughly. When we speak of let we have the idea of facility, -he lets us, we let him; but the old word let was to hinder.* I know not how to understand the common notice in unoccupied houses, to let: there is such a term, meaning to put to hire,but whom would these houses put to hire? It should be, to be let. It was no uncommon thing to honour the most eminent ministers of religion by the following eulogium, That most painful preacher; that is, pains-taking. I am aware that many might deem the epithet rather choice, especially when informed that these men often preached sermons three hours long. Villain meant one who belonged to the soil,-it now means an abandoned character. Gentile, Heathen, Pagan, once meant the Idolater. All but the Jews were ignorant of the true God, and these were the other nations, or Gentiles. Heathen is but the Greek, Eevos, while Gentile is the Latin, Gens. Pagan was the villager, who continued an idolater after larger towns were converted to Christianity. And it is not a little curious that some words have come round from their analogical to their original meaning. Phænomenon is not nearly so much employed to denote a prodigy, which was the idea long forced upon it, as appearances and indications of matter or of mind. —Apology has long been employed in the sense of excuse, which is not proper to it, we resume its true character, a defence and vindication.-Material was the common word for what was important, while that which was unimportant we said was immaterial,—now it is more generally confined, by the educated, to what is not within the range of mind.-Sensible was another name for sound judgment and information,—it is now made descriptive of whatever affects the senses, its natural signification, as we distinguish sensible from moral evidence.Diversion intended, in its ordinary connection, sport and glee, -it speaks its native meaning when, as at the present, we designate by it any thing through which the attention of a party is
Isa. xliii. 13.
taken, turned from what had engaged it, into another direction. Imposing once brought but the single idea of extortion to the mind,—it is not inelegantly, nor unlawfully, applied to what greatly excites us,-an imposing spectacle, but exclusively one
Every person of erudition and taste knows that the elegance and perspicuity of language depend upon the just selection of words, and when such selection is exercised we suppose a variety of synonyms. There is scarcely a case in which the use of two words is really indifferent,-something will almost invariably point out a preference. The school-boy may imagine that every word is equally good and apposite that he may find huddled together in his Gradus ad Parnassum: but when his mind is formed to the noblest models, and disciplined by the grandest masters, he will perceive the distinctions, and the rules of those distinctions, which pervade and govern ancient lore. Atque and et certainly both mean and; but they are by no means always tantamount and interchangeable. Diligo and amo both mean love, but by no means the same intensity and purity of the passion. Vir and homo both mean man, but Virgil's proem, Arma, virumque, would be poorly replaced by Arma, hominemque cano, though the metre would not be destroyed. Nothing, perhaps, is more necessary to accuracy in the classical languages than a rigid attention to what some would treat as inferior and unimportant words: I will specifically mention the adverbs of Latin and the prepositions of Greek. In endeavouring to master the synonyms of a language it will be requisite to mark the manner in which they are employed by the best authors: we must then enquire why, and on what principles, this discrimination proceeds: we must not content ourselves with doing in composition only what we suppose these authors would have done (a tact we might almost blindly acquire after having accumulated a sufficiency of examples)—but we must emulate the taste which embued them, attune our ear to the harmony of their diction, refine our sensibility to the delicacy of their construction, and simplify our imagination to the chasteness of their thought.
The examination of the different powers and values of the words which seem most convertible, in different languages, will often possess us of important historical materials. When we are about to translate from one to the other, we shall ask ourselves why this translation is frequently impossible? The sound and connection of the word in both languages are the same, but they by no means correspond. The classical use is sometimes the very reverse of the meaning we require. And the reason is plain,—that we may have conceptions of things which they never formed: what they thought vices may be our highest virtues. By this comparison we can enter, through the help of a few words, into the doctrines of their philosophy and the spirit of their ethics. Virtus would be very ill-rendered by the English virtue, courage is far better; but then only because the Romans esteemed courage the capital of all the virtues. Humilis must generally be rendered mean, abject; but then only because the Romans considered a low self-estimate a proof of a grovelling and pusillanimous disposition.-In other cases the etymons are fuller in their meaning than the derivations. Prudentia implies much more than our prudence, as in our adopted word, jurisprudence ;-temperantia than our temperance,-honestum than our honest. As in the former survey we witnessed their very defective morality, so in this we learn what were their peculiar notions. Prudentia and Temperantia allude to their whole philosophy, the wisdom of the Porch, their proud, overweening, Stoicism. They who reflect upon the subject will perceive how little classical usage can serve to determine the meaning of words when used by writers, not only not in their popular and received sense, but with the purpose of absolutely subverting it.
A similar train of remark may be applied to the scions grafted on the stock of our language. We have contracted, it must be confessed, a considerable loan of foreign words. Certain nations assuredly preceded us in many of our arts. Naval terms we have very generally borrowed from the Dutch : our military phrases from the French. It was rather an ungrate ful return we made for these obligations at Camperdown and Waterloo. We are much indebted to our Gallic neighbours for