Nobility

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING FRIDAY

Suddenly, a word comes to mind — lese. As in lese-majeste. Let’s see where it goes.

My beloved New Oxford American Dictionary says lese-majeste refers to insulting a monarch or other ruler; it implies treason.

It comes from the Middle English, from French, from Latin laesa majestas, “injured sovereignty.”

How interesting to note that so many of our terms regarding authority come from the French. Not a surprise, really, since the French did monarchy better than anyone since the Romans.

Where else do you have a Sun King (Roi Soleil) like Louis XV? Or a saint-king like Louis XIII, called “Saint-Louis.”

Even our phrases for royalty have French pedigrees:

Sovereign is a supreme ruler or monarch, a term that comes from the Middle English and Old French soverain, based on the Latin super, “above.” The ending was changed to reflect its association with “reign.”

Reign means to hold royal office, and comes to us from the Middle English and Old French reignier, “to reign” from reigne, “kingdom” from the Latin regnum, related to rex and reg-, “king.”

(My dictionary notes here that the correct idiomatic phrase is “free rein,” not free reign. Turns out rein, based on the Latin retinere, “retain,” gives us that phrase which refers to letting go of the restraint of reins. But I digress ….)

The word potentate comes to us from the Latin potentatus, “dominion,” from potent, which means able or powerful, and also gives us potent.

Aristocracy, the king of nobility terms, refers to the highest class in societies, and also a government by nobility. This word comes to us from the Old French aristocratie … and SURPRISE, dates to the Greeks, whose love of all things government gave us the terms aristokratia, from aristos “best” and kratia “power.” The term originally denoted government of a state by its best citizens, which was unforutunately later interpreted to mean rich and well born.

Note that we also have oligarchy, rule by a few, and plutocracy, rule by a few very rich.

Last to noble, which comes to us from the Middle English and Old French, from Latin (g)nobilis, “noted, highborn.” Oddly enough, it is an Indo-European root shared by know.

Which, by the way, leads me to the noble gases — helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and radon, thought to be noble because they don’t readily react with the other elements.

Exclusive and self-contained? Sounds like a typical aristocrat to me.

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