Friday, February 20, 2015

5 Essential Archaisms in the Divergent Trilogy

Obviously I'm a bit behind on book trends, but I recently read the Divergent series by Veronica Roth and was particularly fascinated by the vocabulary used in the dystopian future it presents. Today, we're going to take a look at five key words that are essential to understanding the books. Don't worry - no spoilers lurk ahead!

If you've somehow managed to escape learning about this massive book and film phenomenon, here are the basics: this young adult series focuses on life in a futuristic, dystopian Chicago where society is divided into five distinct groups. These groups, known as "factions", consist of groups of people with similar values and aptitudes. There's a specific reason why they've structured society this way, but if you want to learn about it and the thrilling story of one of its young members, you'll just have to read the books!

The Chicago skyline as seen from Lincoln Park.
In any case, the names of these five factions are the terms that caught my attention: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. While I recognized all of these English words, they struck me as old terms that are rarely heard or read nowadays, which made me wonder how many people have learned their definitions solely from reading these books. I'm pretty sure I've only ever heard one of these words in a sentence before, and that would be "candor", as in "I appreciate your candor".

Since I've spent the past several days reading them over and over in books, I thought it might be nice to shine a spotlight on these five words to learn a bit more about their etymology and definitions. Perhaps they'll even make a comeback in English usage - it's not unheard of for a cultural phenomenon like a popular book series to influence the popular lexicon! In any case, here they are, in all their glory:

Abnegation is a noun that means "self-denial". It appeared in the English lexicon around the year 1500, and comes from the Latin verb abnegare, which means "to refuse" or "to deny".

Amity is basically the opposite of "enmity", a word we tend to hear much more frequently. This noun means "friendly relations", and made its way into English from the Old French word amitie after originating in Latin as amicus.

Candor, the most familiar of these terms, refers to the quality of being "open and honest". It was originally used in English to refer to "whiteness", since the Latin term candor referred to both "purity" and "whiteness", two concepts that are often connected in the English language. However, sometime between the 17th and 18th centuries its primary English definition shifted to focus on being candid, or honest.

Dauntless is an adjective that refers to being "fearless" and "determined". It made its way into English around 1300 from the Old French verb danter meaning "to fear". This term also originated in Latin as the verb domitare, which meant "to tame".

Erudite is also an adjective, which means "having or showing great knowledge or learning". It joined the English language in the early 15th century from the Latin word eruditus, meaning "learned" or "well-informed". You may have heard someone say the word before, and if they did, they probably were erudite themselves!

Have you read the Divergent series? What did you think of the author's use of Latin-based archaisms instead of creating new terms for her futuristic society? Were you familiar with all five of these terms before reading the books or this post? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!