I have studied linguistics (and literature) way before I even dreamt to become a Freemason. My favourite linguistic disciplines – branches, if you will – beside comparative linguistics, were etymology and onomastics, i.e. the study of the origins of the words and the history of the development of names. Even today I am fascinated by names and words. Any word if there is some historical background that I can read about.

Also, when I was in my first year of the university, I did my very first job of translation: I had to translate an article of the famous Soviet-Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein (Сергей Михайлович Эйзенштейн). I can’t remember the topic of it, only one thing that stayed with me: how he explained that he learned from a French poet to love to read (monolingual) dictionaries. Not those bilingual Australian-Belgian dictionaries but the books that list the words of a language (typically in alphabetical order) and give their meaning. Beyond the concise description of the meaning, the good ones also provide a wide array of information regarding the pronunciation, origin of the word, history and usage. Even today I am able to sit with a dictionary and read it as a “novel” for hours…

Nowadays, when we have so many digital formats of these dictionaries together with online access – it is normal that on my smartphone one of the most important apps is the dictionary: it has the word, the explanation, you can listen to the correct (British or American) pronunciation etc. There is a setting in the app offering to deliver a “word of the day” each morning. So, besides a short Stoic newsletter and contemplation the next thing while having my first coffee in the morning is to look into the word, THE WORD that was meant to be for that day. Sometimes it is like a detective story: the word appeared first in a text in 1467 (for example) in Old English but, actually, came from older French or medieval Italian, and that language got it from the Latin whose speakers also borrowed it originally from the ancient Greeks… but maybe it was Egyptian or Phoenician, and you start this imaginary journey back in time, learning mindboggling things about history, languages, cultures and human ingenuity of naming and classifying the world around us. Also, I am lucky that I can speak a few more languages, so immediately I can compare – in my mind – the words and idioms from those, noting the similarities and differences, realizing how different cultures approach and describe or interpret the same phenomenon of our world.

Then I became a Mason, back in Europe, in a lodge that was using a different language and a different ritual. After moving to this continent, namely to Canada, I slowly discovered the peculiarities of their Emulation-based ritual, then while visiting (in pre-COVID times) friendly American lodges, I became familiar with their ritual, too (mainly with the Preston-Webb variants). My in-depth study of English, Masonic usage and Biblical exegesis opened a window into a new – linguistic – world, full of fascinating cultural cross-references.

From this perspective every story (fable?) told in the rituals, every symbol and object is not only Masonic… but clearly borrowed from earlier biblical books, ancient legends and scholarly works. Every word that we might consider “purely Masonic” it has been in usage in a different context centuries before. Or millennia before. Learning this my new ritual, after I joined a lodge in Canada, was another fascinating journey in linguistics: discovering the roots, identifying the stylistic tools of rhetoric (FC degree anyone, the seven liberal arts and sciences?), recognizing the grammatical peculiarities of the era and learning to read the old typeset – what a pleasant challenge and intellectual journey.

I have a brother, a good friend, who is a retired English teacher and we often engage in long talks about our ritual, the language, the philosophy and the moral lessons in it. Then we help each other with memorizing and more importantly delivering(!) our parts and lectures… and those are the best days.

And the next day I get a new word from my dictionary app, and sometimes I just share it on my Facebook wall – because I find it interesting or funny or odd. Or just as a “public service”, educating the misera plebs contribuens. And sometimes because I conduct an experiment to see how other homo sapiens would react. The latter, usually, goes bad. I mean they react exactly as I expected, not a sapient way.

The linguistics of Masonry

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