Does Optimist Equal – Cockeyed?

As I walked along the East River late this afternoon, I found myself singing, “When the sky is a bright canary yellow…” I was in a very optimistic mood. My son had just helped me fix my computer and I knew I was a blessed woman. Then I caught my mind delving back to the concept of word usage. In my senior years I can’t seem to get away from thinking about words and how we came to use them as we do.  I’ve spent so much of my life speaking and thinking in English that I often took certain words for granted – and I’m a lyricist. I’m always thinking about words, yet I wonder how many people never analyze why certain words were chosen to mean what they do. Each language has it’s own groups of words that work together like relatives even though the people using the words don’t really think about how those words are related.

I love words and I love optimism. I’m surprised I hadn’t really delved into the word “optimist” in the way I did today.   Today I realized that the word “optimist” must be related to optimum.

In my book, “Find Your mini-Qs(?): Reveal the Slim, Strong, Sexy Star You Truly Are! at Age 50, 60, 70, and Beyond.” I often talk about finding the foods, movements, etc that are “optimum” for you. I looked the word up on the Free Online Dictionary and the definitions that came up were:

  1. The point at which the condition, degree, or amount of something is the   most favorable.
  2. Biology: The most favorable condition for growth and reproduction

Both of the above certainly fit what I speak about in my book. In fact I mentioned it in the Blog post before the last one. I also speak of it in other posts.

Optimism is a view of life that sees things as working out well. Hmmm…”sees. Then, I thought of the word “optical”. We don’t refer to things pertaining to the eye and to vision as “pessical!” I just made that word up. But –if optimism relates to optical – i.e., seeing things as working out for the best, why don’t we give pessimists equal play?

Optimum and optical seem related to me.  Our language doesn’t give pessimism equal play. I’m very glad of that. Pessimism is the antonym of optimist.  The word “optimism” originated in France in the 1730s

As I was humming the song from South Pacific I was thinking of the connection between optics and optical. But – then I thought – the song I was humming was “Cockeyed Optimist”.  That kind of reverses the definition. It’s almost saying that if you see things optimistically you have distorted vision and people will think of you as a bit “nutsy!” I had an AHA when I remembered that Oscar Hammerstein, whose lyrics I adore, wrote this for Nellie Forbush to sing as an Ensign in the US Navy, stationed in the South Pacific during WWII.  I have a feeling – more than a feeling  – there was a lot of fear thrown into people’s minds then and people would feel that Nellie was a bit out of her mind to take a positive view of the world. Yet, even in those circumstances, the character of Nellie chose to see the world through positive eyes. We all can and it makes sense for us to choose to see the world that way. After all – optical, optimum and optimist are all from the same word group.

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Published in: on May 27, 2012 at 1:17 am  Leave a Comment  

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