Etymological Musings 1: Meditate or Mediate?

2 min readJul 24, 2020

What do the following word pairs have in common: attitude and aptitude; advent and adventure; busy and business; and apparently, people’s personal favorite mourning and morning? The words in the pairings have a similar look and sound. Attitude and aptitude only differ by one letter. Advent and adventure share a root. It appears that busy and business also share a root. And the homophones morning and mourning differ again, by one single letter. Do you ever wonder whether words with similar spellings have similar meanings? Given how close they are in spelling, I pondered how close they are etymologically as well. Some of these are related (attitude and aptitude both derive from the Latin aptus meaning “fitted, fit”) while others are not (mourning from Old English murnang or “grief”; while morning comes from the Old English morgen). A good etymological dictionary can clear up most muddled conjectures of origins based on common spellings.

The words meditate and mediate are phonetically and orthographically similar, and it is interesting that these two words signify two largely distinct ideas. Orthographically, they are separated by one single grapheme- the letter t. But meditate comes from the Latin meditat- “contemplated”, from the verb meditari, meaning “measure”. Mediate comes from the Latin mediare, which comes from the Latin medius “middle”. So there is no etymological connection here. But I would argue one could create semantic relationship, albeit a bit of stretch. Both meditation and mediation are tools for saving the world, ways to address intrapersonal and interpersonal conflict respectively. And I would argue that all problems create and originate from some sort of conflict- war, economic collapse, climate change, racism, health issues, police brutality, poverty, physical and structural violence.

So the long and short of it is this. Meditate often. Seek mediation for conflicts. Morning does not cause mourning, although for some people it does- but these days, I’m grateful to see another morning, for there’s been too much mourning these past four months. Although we are busy busy busy, make it your business to have meaningful conversations with those around you. Your attitude impacts your aptitude, so remember to live in gratitude. Sorry for ending this with all these platitudes, but these universal tropes are timeless truths that I’m sure we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

Thanks for indulging.