Today I lumber out of my 6 month blogging hiatus with an article in the domain of linguistics. As the title suggests, its about the meaning and the origins of the word ‘companion’, and it was brought to my notice by my fiancé. Aptly so, don’t you think?
Right then. Why did the origins of that one word strike me as interesting? Here’s why.
‘Companion’ has its origins in the French word ‘compaignon’, which literally means ‘one who breaks bread with another’, based on the Latin ‘com’ – ‘together with’ and ‘panis’ – ‘bread’. This, I think, is brilliantly logical. In a way it means that a companion is a person with whom you share something you’ve toiled for – your bread, or to be more generic, your food. Its the most basic of the necessities that you share with someone, and therefore has the most value, which in turn means that you should really value the person whom you share it with. That person may be your partner (husband or wife), friend, colleague, neighbor (I know, that’s pushing it!).
The New Oxford American Dictionary too puts the meaning as:
“a person or animal with whom one spends a lot of time or with whom one travels”
which generally corroborates the original meaning of the word and applies a modern connotation to it. A companion now would also mean a compatriot, a comrade, a person with whom you share your most inner thoughts and experiences, a confidant, or as the Spanish would put it, an ‘amigo’.
How much of all this still holds true, is a matter of debate in today’s world of treacherous alliances, cut-throat competition and a race for ever expanding profits.
Case in the point: The word ‘company’ is naturally derived from ‘companion’. Considering its usage as meaning a firm, corporation, enterprise or consortium, there you are in the company of like-minded individuals, or at least should be. Various job descriptions e.g. ‘company secretary’ have in turn been derived from ‘company’. Its the contemporary usage of the word in some cases that amazes me. We take the word for granted without thinking about its depth.
The very fact that you are amidst like-minded people pursuing a common goal should mean attributes such as trust and loyalty are obvious. The spirit of teamwork and notions such as watching each other’s back and sharing information honestly should come naturally. Its not always the case though, because some of us treat the ‘company’ like a building made of stone and cement, where you only work, or command work from others. A place for personal gains, attempts to claim personal laurels, set selfish goals, convene water-cooler talks and gossip meetings, conduct rat-races, and eventually malign the origins of the word like hauling down the statue of a great old forgotten and misquoted leader by pulling in different directions. A by-product of ‘growing big’ and inter-departmental rivalries, you might say, but isn’t everyone (at least theoretically) supposed to collectively propel the ship of the ‘company’ forward?
Some food for thought. Wanna share?