Printable Version
Pronunciation: ai-dee--liz-m Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: 1. (From idea) The Platonic theory that ultimate reality lies in a realm beyond the real world, that the real world is a by-product of mental or supernatural states; art that rejects realism for the world of imagination. 2. (From ideal) The practice of living according to or striving toward a set of ideals. 3. Overly optimistic hopefulness.

Notes: Plato, who taught in a suburb of Athens called Academia, argued that only concepts are real since they do not change over time as do the objects they represent. Nothing exists until the idea of it exists, hence some supreme power must have conceived of the universe before it came into existence. Real objects are the concepts in his mind, which must be delivered by the teacher, who is a mental midwife (see "maieutics" in the Archives). This was the original, philosophical meaning of idealism, seldom used any more outside philosophy classroom.

In Play: The Platonic sense of today's word refers to the world of ideas as opposed to realia: "Twitty's idealism is always crucial in preparing a product for production," means that Twitty's imaginative ideas are important to the process. Twitty may be a depraved moral degenerate with no ideals at all and hence no idealist in the second sense.

Word History: Today's Good Word comes Greek idea "form, shape", inherited from Proto-Indo-European weid- "to see", also the origin of the his in histor "wise man, learned man", underlying the verb historein "to inquire, research", which ended up after several borrowings (Greek > Latin > English), as English history. In Latin this root became videre "to see" and related words, e.g. video "I see", visio(n) "vision", and revisio(n) "revision". It is the same root in Sanskrit made veda "knowledge" as in the Rig-Veda "sacred-knowledge" and Russian videt' "to see". The stem entered Germanic as witan "know", seen in Modern German wissen "to know" and in English wisdom and twit, the verb, a shortened form of Middle English atwite "to reproach, taunt", derived from at + witen "reproach". The noun twit is an aphetic (shortened) form of nitwit.

Dr. Goodword,

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