Response Online



Word Play What's in a Word

We don’t know about you, but we love to learn about words — their meanings, their origins, how to use them in conversation. In each issue of Response, we ask a campus expert to explore a word related to the magazine’s theme. This time, the SPU assistant professor of classics delves into the Latin roots of “educate.”


By Owen Ewald, C. May Marston Assistant Professor of Classical Languages and Civilizations

The Latin word from which “educate” comes is educare, pronounced “ay-doo-CA-reh.” This verb is related to word roots that mean “lead” (duc-) and “out of” (e-). The verb is frequently used for bringing up children, as in this quotation from Casina by the comic playwright Plautus, circa 200 B.C.: “The lady of the house brought up (educavit) her adopted daughter with great diligence, not much differently from her own daughter, if a daughter had been born to her.” Plautus emphasizes that the process of raising children, even if they are not one’s own biological children, is labor-intensive.

But other Latin authors use this word in less literal senses for educational processes, even those that are directed not by people, but by !elds of study or disciplines. For example, in his work On Oratory, the Roman politician Cicero discusses the effects of following the discipline of speaking or oratory: “The art of speaking … has this effect … that it strengthens and educates (educet) those things which arose and were conceived in us.” In other words, education in oratory cannot give us talent we do not naturally have, but can improve our natural talent.

Moreover, this verb also appears in the Vulgate, Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible: “Parents, do not provoke your children to anger, but educate (educate) them in the Lord’s learning and
instruction” (Ephesians 6:4). Education, here specifically Christian, overcomes anger and frustration for improved relationships.

All three of these passages with educare suggest a “leading out” of God-given talents from children and adults through hard work.