The Creative Exploration of Language


Beginning is a common word that, like many such words, hides a deeper, more profound origin.  In fact, beginning is such a fundamental word that it is difficult to formulate a definition for it without resorting to a form of the word itself.  That said, something like the following might be acceptable: a beginning occurs when something is brought from a state of non-being to a state of being.

When considered from this perspective, the true nature of the word begins to shine through.  This nature can most effectively be uncovered by asking the question, “How do I bring something from a state of non-being to a state of being?”  There are a number of potential responses to this question that spring to mind, but all of them can ultimately be boiled down to the idea that every beginning stems from an act of dynamic creativity.

This connection between the word beginning and the concept of dynamic creativity is reinforced when one breaks down the word into its constituent parts, as below.

First is the prefix be-.  I have discussed the use of this prefix in a previous post about the word bewildered, so here I will simply point out that it is cognate with the German prefix ver-, and is generally used to indicate a sudden shift or intensification of perception.

Second is the crux of the word, –ginn.  While it stands alone within English (can you think of any other words with –ginn in them?) it does have very similar cognates in other Germanic languages (Old English beginnan, Old High German biginnan, Dutch and German beginnen, Norwegian begynne, etc.).  In all these cases, -ginn seems to be related etymologically to yawn, and to have the literal connotation of “opening up” or “gaping widely”.

This meaning, in combination with the resemblance in sound, made me think of the Ginnungagap of Norse mythology, the “yawning void” or the “magically charged void” out of which the world began.  The latter interpretation comes from the use of ginn- in Old Norse, where it is used as an intensifier to mean “great”, “holy” or “magical”.

So, putting the word back together, we arrive at a poetic meaning for beginning that is something like “an act of dynamic creativity that causes something to suddenly appear out of the void of potential”.  This definition of the word appeals to me because it keeps front and center the idea that creation is a mystery, an unexplainable spark that feeds off the fuel of potential to light up the world.



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