I’ve always loved etymology; all words, like people, have a story – a past and, like people, the stranger the story, the more interesting the word seems. On Sunday, I received my customary Merriam-Webster word of the day, which was “oaf.” I typically associate “oaf” with Hagrid and other generally big-footed people. However, I found out that the origin of the word is actually something quite different:
A long time ago in England, it was believed that goblins sometimes secretly exchanged their babies for human babies. This was used as an explanation when parents found themselves with a particularly ugly or deformed child: these parents wanted to believe that their real baby had been stolen by goblins, and the other left in its place. The label for such a child was “auf,” or “alfe” (meaning “goblin’s child”), terms that were later altered to form our present-day “oaf.” Although the linguistic history is not entirely clear, “auf” and “alfe” are likely from the “alven” and “elven,” meaning “elf” or “fairy.” Today the word “oaf” is no longer associated with unattractive babies and is instead applied to anyone who appears especially unintelligent or graceless.
I think this explanation exemplifies the real reason why man invented superstition (and in extreme cases, religion): to account for the things he cannot control – and push any sort of blame onto someone else.
But the thing I’ve been wondering is: Why must parents of centuries past and in the present day find scapegoats and lame excuses to explain away their child’s disfunctional qualities (be it a crooked nose or a propensity for getting into trouble)? Despite any child’s flaws or abnormalities, aren’t parents supposed to think they’re perfect anyways?
Sometimes, I wonder about the existence of unconditional love.