• cosmogony •
Pronunciation: kahz-mah-gê-nee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The scientific study of the origin of the universe. 2. A specific theory (explanation) of the origin and evolution of the universe.
Notes: Today's word covers a lot of space, so to speak. I will not have time here to get into all the theories of the universe, just the major ones, which are (1) God created it and (2) the Big Bang Theory. The first of these leaves open the question, who or what created God? The second is that the universe resulted from an enormous explosion of a small ball of compressed matter 10-20 billion years ago. It leaves open the question: where did the small ball of matter come from? Today's word comes with the usual derivational accessories of Latinate words: two adjectives, cosmogonic and cosmogonical, and a personal noun, cosmogonist.
In Play: After a lecture, perhaps on the changes in human perceptions of the world, the famous American psychologist, William James, was met outside the classroom by a little old lady who told him she believed the Earth in fact was flat and was supported by a huge turtle. "But, my dear lady", Professor James asked, "what holds up the turtle?" "Ah", she said, "He is standing on the back of another turtle." "Oh, I see", said Professor James. "But what holds up the second turtle?" "It's no use, Professor", said the little old lady, seeing the logical trap into which she was being led, "It's turtles all the way down!" This is the logical problem of all cosmogonies: infinite regression.
Word History: Today's Good Word ultimately comes from Greek kosmogonia "creation of the world". This compound noun was put together from kosmos "order, decoration, the world" + gonia "begetting". We borrowed kosmos directly, changing only the initial letter: cosmos. Cosmetics comes from the same source. We borrowed it from the Latinized version of Greek kosmetike technike "the art of dressing beautifully", from the second meaning of kosmos. Gonia comes from a particularly prolific ancient root, gen-/gon- "beget, give birth to", found in many words borrowed from Latin and Greek: generate, genus, genetic among them. English received this root via its Germanic ancestors, too, as kin, king, and kind. (We owe a note of gratitude to Susan Ardith Lee, a Lexiterian in the Alpha Agora, for suggesting today's cosmic Good Word.)