Amidst the furore over Panama Papers and still unclear and dubious circumstances that prompted authorities to launch fraud /bribery investigations surrounding Unaoil, this week, if you paid attention to the current affairs and if you happen to be particularly emotionally responsive, it must have been not only disappointing but also emotionally exhausting (if vicariously indignant).
Probably completely unrelated and irrelevant but that was the backdrop from which my mind jumped to the following two words ‘person’ and ‘people’.
If we’re talking about one human being, we use the word ‘person’ but if it’s more than one, we collectively refer to them as ‘people’. You would notice that with the exception of the first two letters ‘P’ and ‘E’, lexicographically, they don’t look that similar. ‘Are they related’ was the question to which I wanted an answer. Fortunately for me (I don’t get this lucky very often), the answer I came across was rather definitive.
The singular word ‘person’ is actually derived from a similar English word ‘persona’, which in fact came from two Latin words ‘per’ and ‘sona’, literally meaning ‘through/sound’. ‘Per-sona’ was originally used to denote the mask worn by actors in Roman theatre as in ‘(mask) to sound through’; something that required presentation. If you look up the word ‘people’, most dictionaries will tell you it’s the plural form of ‘person’. This gives the impression that somehow ‘people’ is a cognate (variation) of the original word ‘person’ but that is not the case. The word ‘people’ was derived from a completely different Latin word ‘populus’, which was a French adoption that replaced a more indigenous Germanic word ‘folk’ (you know, poncy people like using fancy French(-derived) words if available)
If I tried to make a tenuous point of connection between Panama papers and the two words explained above, perhaps it would be that they all begin with the letter ‘P’; alright that was a poor attempt and very tenuous indeed.
In any case, people, have a good Friday