Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Ramble - Radical

This Friday's word is radical, and it comes to us through the late Latin rādīcālis meaning having roots and the Old English wrotan meaning to root, gnaw or dig up, both originating in the early Indo-European wrad meaning branch or root.

Synonyms include: fundamental, basic, basal, bottom, cardinal, constitutional, deep-seated, essential, foundational, inherent, innate, intrinsic, meat-and-potatoes, native, natural, organic, original, primal, primary, primitive, profound, thoroughgoing, underlying, vital. They also include pejorative words such as anarchistic, chaotic, excessive, extremist, fanatical, far-out, freethinking, iconoclastic, immoderate, insubordinate, insurgent, insurrectionary, intransigent, lawless, left wing, militant, mutinous, nihilistic, rabid, rebellious, recalcitrant, recusant, refractory, restive, revolutionary, riotous, seditious, severe, sweeping, uncompromising and violent.

We use the word radical to describe someone who dwells outside the mainstream, someone who has departed from accepted norms, traditions and social conventions and does their own thing. The words has been in common usage since the sixties, and to be called radical is not usually a compliment. It is astonishing to think that a word used to connote the rebellious, unconventional,, confrontational and downright peculiar actually means something as lovely and organic and simple as "rooted. Now how did that happen?

Radical is fast becoming my favorite word this year. It signifies (for me anyway) a bone deep connection with the Old Wild Mother, with the earth under my feet and the moon and stars over my head, with timeless notions of rebirth, transformation and non-duality. Roots down, branches up and away we go...


Suzanne McDermott said...

I think that usage of the word "radical" in the 60's was intended to describe someone who wanted to make change, not on a superficial level, but at the "root" of things. Some of the people who wanted to instigate change at the root of things resorted to violence (or were wrongly accused of doing so), hence, an early negative association.

The word was associated with people outside the mainstream and so forth because those were often people who had made radical changes in their own lives. As we tend towards labels and gross generalizations, many different people were labeled as radicals. Because labels as such are easy handles for lumping together many types for the sake of criticism (or praise), because most people are unfamiliar with etymology, and because it's so easy to link one word with a negative (or positive) connotation when it is repeated, the word radical took on limited and negative connotations.

There is nothing inherently wrong with being rebellious, unconventional, confrontational (in response to certain circumstances) or peculiar. All of those behaviors operate in context of a perceived "norm". When a "norm" calcifies or is no longer appropriate, it's not a bad thing to seek change at the root.

Love reading your posts.

greentangle said...

I'm proudly radical and quite willing to accept almost all (I'll adjust one to tempeh-and-potatoes) of those synonyms, pejoratives, and significations. I just wish I did a better job of living up to them.