Printable Version
Pronunciation: ai Hear it!

Part of Speech: Pronoun, personal

Meaning: First person singular pronoun referring to the speaker.

Notes: Today's Good Word is one of two one-letter words; a is the other. It is the only pronoun capitalized. In Russian you capitalize the word for "you" (Vy) in polite documents.

In Play: I is what the famous Russian linguist, Roman Jakobson, called a "shifter". Jakobson noticed that I and you shifted meanings in the midst of conversations, depending on whether the participant is speaking or listening. I always refers to the speaker and you, to the listener. As those roles shift in the course of a conversation, so do the meanings of each word.

Word History: The oldest PIE form was approximately eg "I", producing Latin ego, Old English ic "I", Dutch ik "I", German ich. French je, Italian io, and Spanish yo are all direct descendants of Latin ego "I". The radical difference between the nominative form of I and its accusative form (English me) goes back to PIE. That's why we find English me, French me, German mich, and Latin me. The first-person possessive adjective, mine (shortened to my), then, goes back to me-no-, which also turned into German mein and Dutch mijn "my". French madame once comprised ma "my" + dame "lady", from Latin domina, feminine of dominus "lord, master". Likewise, monsieur was made from mon "my" + sieur "sir", from Latin meum, the accusative case of meus "my, mine" + a French reduction of Latin senior "older, elder". (I only know that a Junior Lexiterian, known as "jbyrdmor" in the Agora, a freelance translator living in Quito, Ecuador, recommended today's tiny but surprisingly interesting Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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