The English word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning "breath", but also "spirit, soul, courage, vigor", ultimately from a Proto-Indo-European *(s)peis. It is distinguished from Latin anima, "soul" (which nonetheless also derives from an Indo-European root meaning "to breathe", earliest form *h2enh1- ). In Greek, this distinction exists between pneuma (πνευμα), "breath, motile air, spirit," and psykhē (ψυχη), "soul" (even though the latter term, ψῡχή = psykhē/psūkhē, is also from an Indo-European root meaning "to breathe": *bhes-, zero grade *bhs- devoicing in proto-Greek to *phs-, resulting in historical-period Greek ps- in psūkhein, "to breathe", whence psūkhē, "spirit", "soul").
The word "spirit" came into Middle English via Old French. The distinction between soul and spirit also developed in the Abrahamic religions: Arabic nafs (نفس) opposite rúħ (روح); Hebrew neshama (נְשָׁמָה nəšâmâh) or nephesh (in Hebrew neshama comes from the root NŠM or "breath") opposite ruach (רוּחַ rûaħ). (Note, however, that in Semitic just as in Indo-European, this dichotomy has not always been as neat historically as it has come to be taken over a long period of development: Both נֶ֫פֶשׁ (root נפשׁ) and רוּחַ (root רוח), as well as cognate words in various Semitic languages, including Arabic, also preserve meanings involving misc. air phenomena: "breath", "wind", and even "odour".)
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Famous quotes containing the word etymology:
“The universal principle of etymology in all languages: words are carried over from bodies and from the properties of bodies to express the things of the mind and spirit. The order of ideas must follow the order of things.”
—Giambattista Vico (16881744)
“Semantically, taste is rich and confusing, its etymology as odd and interesting as that of style. But while stylederiving from the stylus or pointed rod which Roman scribes used to make marks on wax tabletssuggests activity, taste is more passive.... Etymologically, the word we use derives from the Old French, meaning touch or feel, a sense that is preserved in the current Italian word for a keyboard, tastiera.”
—Stephen Bayley, British historian, art critic. Taste: The Story of an Idea, Taste: The Secret Meaning of Things, Random House (1991)