Lexical Investigations: Dogma

dogma, lexical investigationsAt the turn of the 17th century, dogma entered English from the Latin term meaning “philosophical tenet.” The Greek word from which it is borrowed means “that which one thinks is true,” and comes ultimately from the Greek dokein which means “to seem good” or “think.”

The origin of the word dogma acts as a reminder to English speakers that now-established principles and doctrines were once simply thoughts and opinions of ordinary people that gained popularity and eventually found their way into the universal consciousness of society. 20th-century American academic and aphorist Mason Cooley concisely observed that “Under attack, sentiments harden into dogma,” suggesting that dogma is spawned as a defensive act. This idea implies that for every dogma that exists, there is a counter dogma. With so many “truths” out there, there is sure to be a dogma to conveniently fit every set of beliefs.

Popular References

—Dogma: A film written and directed by Kevin Smith, released in 1999
—Dogma 95: A movement in cinema started by Danish director Lars von Trier in 1995, which established filmmaking constraints such as no use of special effects

Related Quotations

“Let it be understood once for all that Catholic dogma does not fix a limit to the operations of reason in dealing with divine truth.”
—A. N. Littlejohn, “Catholic Dogma: Its Nature and Obligations,” Catholic Dogma (1892)

“Since the time of Moses Mendelssohn (1728–1786), the chief Jewish dogma has been that Judaism has no dogmas.”
—Israel Abrahams, Judaism (1907)

“To me there was no question so important as the emancipation of women from the dogmas of the past, political, religious, and social.”
—Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty years and more: Reminiscences 1815-1897 (1898)

“Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
—Steve Jobs, “Commencement Address at Stanford University,” American Rhetoric (delivered June 12, 2005)

Read our previous post about the word camouflage.
A motley combination of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Germanic dialects, the English language (more or less as we know it) coalesced between the 9th and 13th centuries. Since then, it has continued to import and borrow words and expressions from around the world, and the meanings have mutated. (Awesome and awful once meant nearly the same thing.) Some specimens in the English vocabulary have followed unusually circuitous routes to their place in the contemporary lexicon, and this series, Lexical Investigations, unpacks those words hiding in our midst.