Courage vs. bravery

Last time we talked about the word hero—what it means and what it takes to be one. In this post, we’re discussing two words that are often connected to heroism: courage and bravery.

Today the words are used interchangeably, but a look to their history reveals an important difference.

First let’s look at current definitions.

Bravery is the “quality or state of being brave,” and Merriam-Webster, in its unabridged online version, defines brave as “resolute in facing odds; able to meet danger or endure pain or hardship without giving in to fear.” The unabridged dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength enabling one to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty firmly and resolutely.”

It’s worth noting that here Merriam-Webster also defines brave as “having or showing courage.”

Etymology
The current definitions are very similar. Yet, when we look at how courage and bravery came into the English language, a distinction shows.

Merriam-Webster notes that courage is linked historically to cœur, the French word for heart. Brave, on the other hand, comes from the Italian word bravo, meaning “brave, bold.” Bravo, interestingly enough, originally meant “wild, savage,” says the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Meaning
There is a quote that goes “The line between bravery and stupidity is so thin that you don’t know you’ve crossed it until you’re dead.”

That’s the main takeaway when you consider the etymology. Bravery can be the split-second decision to run into a field filled with flying arrows. Bravery can be dangerously close to stupidity, to wild and savage.

Courage, however, takes something deeper. It takes heart. Courage is donating a kidney to your sister because you love her so deeply. Courage is a doctor or a nurse choosing to work in an Ebola-stricken region because they want to relieve human suffering.

Bravery is eating an earthworm sandwich because your buddy dared you.

What do you think?
Is there a difference between courage and bravery? Or should we use them interchangeably? Let me know in the comments.

Erin Servais is a freelance copywriter and copy editor. She’d love to hear about your new project. Learn how to hire her by going to dotanddashllc.com.

A villainous etymology

villain: a character in a story, movie, etc., who does bad things
Merriam-Webster

I’ve been on a major Shakespeare kick lately. One thing I noticed in my devouring of his plays is how many times the bard used the word villain. I mean, it’s a lot. If you turned it into a drinking game, taking a sip every time he used it (which you shouldn’t do because that’s dangerous), you’d in a sad state by act II.

This got me thinking about the etymology of villain. By its spelling, I assumed it came from French (it does), but I didn’t expect it would have much of a story after that. I was wrong. The Online Etymology Dictionary gave me the details.

Villain comes from the Old French word vilain, which does not mean “a bad guy in a cape lurking in the shadows.” It originally meant, in the twelfth century, a “peasant, farmer, commoner, churl, yokel.” In other words, a villain was just a regular guy who was unfamiliar with the trappings of high society.

Before Old French, villain had roots in the Medieval Latin villanus, meaning “farmhand.” Before that was the Latin villa, meaning “country house, farm.”

So, is it really so bad to be a villain? Shakespeare still thought so:

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables—meet it is I set it down,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
Hamlet: Act 1, Scene 5

 

 

Words and phrases Shakespeare invented

William Shakespeare wasn’t just one of the greatest and most influential playwrights in history, he was also a mega wordsmith. Some estimates say the bard coined 1,700 words, many of which we use daily—like eyeball. Seriously. Eyeball.

Here’s a sample of words Shakespeare invented:

  • addiction (Othello)
  • bedazzled (The Taming of the Shrew)
  • belongings (Measure for Measure)
  • bloodstained (Titus Andronicus)
  • cold-blooded (King John)
  • eventful (As You Like It)
  • eyeball (The Tempest)
  • fashionable (Troilus and Cressida)
  • jaded (King Henry VI)
  • laughable (The Merchant of Venice)
  • manager (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • mimic (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • moonbeam (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • new-fangled (Love’s Labour’s Lost)
  • obscene (Love’s Labour’s Lost)
  • puking (As You Like It)
  • scuffle (Antony and Cleopatra)
  • swagger (Henry V)
  • uncomfortable (Romeo and Juliet)
  • zany (Love’s Labour’s Lost)

Shakespeare also coined many popular phrases. Here is a sample:

  • all’s well that ends well (All’s Well that Ends Well)
  • bated breath (The Merchant of Venice)
  • be all and the end all (Macbeth)
  • brave new world (The Tempest)
  • break the ice (The Taming of the Shrew)
  • fancy-free (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • flaming youth (Hamlet)
  • for goodness’ sake (Henry VIII)
  • foregone conclusion (Othello)
  • full circle (King Lear)
  • good riddance (Troilus and Cressida)
  • jealousy is the green-eyed monster (Othello)
  • it was Greek to me (Julius Caesar)
  • heart of gold (Henry V)
  • in a pickle (The Tempest)
  • in my heart of hearts (Hamlet)
  • in my mind’s eye (Hamlet)
  • kill with kindness (The Taming of the Shrew)
  • laughing stock (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
  • neither a borrower nor a lender be (Hamlet)
  • neither rhyme nor reason (As You Like It)
  • parting is such sweet sorrow (Romeo and Juliet)
  • pomp and circumstance (Othello)
  • salad days (Antony and Cleopatra)
  • sea change (The Tempest)
  • something wicked this way comes (Macbeth)
  • to thine own self be true (Hamlet)
  • too much of a good thing (As You Like It)
  • wear my heart upon my sleeve (Othello)

Now goeth forward, dear readers, and speaketh awesome words. And if you can’t think of the right one, do like Shakespeare did and just make one up.

 

 

Dog days of summer

 

Things sure are heating up. Even in my home state of Minnesota (where it just stopped snowing two months ago), I have all the fans running full blast. That’s because we’ve officially entered the dog days of summer.

The dog days of summer are known as being the hottest period of the year, running from July 3 to August 11. However, the name has nothing to do with our beloved Fidos.

The name actually comes from Sirius, the brightest star in our sky. Sirius is known as the Dog Star and is the chief star in the constellation Canis Major. Dog days traditionally began when Sirius rose at the same time as sunrise (heliacal rising), causing Romans to attribute the extra heat to the meeting up of the two stars. (Due to shifts in the equinoxes, this is no longer happens, at least if I correctly understood all of the astronomy articles I’ve been reading.)

Etymology
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term dog days comes from the 1530s, when it was known in Latin as dies caniculares, translated from the Greek hēmerai kynades.

Solstice

Today is the summer solstice, the day that starts the summer season, which also happens to be the day in which we have the most hours of sunlight. Merriam-Webster defines solstice as: one of the two points on the ecliptic at which its distance from the celestial equator is greatest and which is reached by the sun each year about June 22nd and December 22nd.

So, basically, what I said before. (Way to complicate things, M-W.)

Etymology
English adopted solstice from the Old French word of the same spelling. The word originally came from Latin as a combination of sol, which means sun, and sistere, which means “to come to a stop.” Related is the Latin word solstitium, which means “point at which the sun seems to stand still.” (Much thanks to the Online Etymology Dictionary for that information.)