Philology Phriday–Obvious

10 Sep

When things are obvious to us, we know them without having to go through the journey of intellectual struggle. They are banal, trite, plain, and evident to the mind. One thing that was never quite obvious to me is the way the word obvious is actually formed. This edition of Philo Phriday will give you a brief intro to the not-so-obvious roots of obvious. It is really the amalgam of a few different phonemes in Latin:

Ob

Means in the direction of, towards, against, or in front of, in view of, on account of.

+

Via

Refers to a road in Latin, though has no real English currency.

+

Ous

A suffix that implies an adjective form, normally connoting something is characteristic of, or full of, or even of the nature of.

=

Thus, the basic meaning of obvious has something to do with a roadway that is right in front of you, or, even trickier, right against you. Isn’t this strange? We normally do not think of obvious things in terms of a pathway, a word which implies certain types of deference, both spatial and temporal kinda–walking down a path is both a passage in space and time. We normally see obvious things that just hit us, almost as if they are single points in experience, not some weird Frostian other-road-type idea.

The only way I can piece together this idea with the way that we have normally conceived of obvious in its English use is that the obvious is a point on the road, an opening right in front of you. Maybe the obvious things are like a portal or toll gate. You get past them in order to get onto the road. The obvious is just a stop, and in a world such as this, post-post-modern and all, where we are all moving and moving and moving, we can’t stop at the obvious. If we do, we won’t get anywhere. Duh.

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