Is my love of word history inherent or inherited?

One of the things that gets me up at 2:00 AM is what I call “word flow” or etymology (the study of word histories), not to be confused with entomology (the study of insects). (Note to self, look up why etymology and entomology are so similar.) Recently (ok, this morning), for reasons not covered here (but maybe in another post, soon), I tracked down the words inherent vs inherit.

I’ve heard these two words used as if they’re related, meaning “something one is born with.” Certainly, they look very similar, spelling-wise (both start with “i-n-h-e-r”). Surely, they must come from the same root word?

Actually, no.  Inherent, meaning “belonging to the basic nature of” (as in “present at birth or time of creation”), comes from the Latin root haerer meaning “to be attached, to adhere, or to stick to”. Inherit’s primary or original meaning is “to receive upon the death of someone” (as in “inheritance”) and comes from the Latin word heres “heir”. Further, that word is related to the Greek word Cheros, meaning “bereaved.” (Just a reminder, Ancient Greece culture preceded and influenced Ancient Roman culture.) So, interestingly, the words are quite opposite, one involving birth and the other death.

Perhaps, because they sound so similar, there was a misuse of one or both at some point in history? (Actually, couldn’t we say that, in general, most of our language develops from misuse or overuse of speech patterns and habits?) Inherit has been used to mean “to have because of genes”or “received from parents”. And there is one connecting definition of both, regarding the choices we make. Inherent comes from the word adhere, which has one meaning “to bind oneself to observance” (of a certain way of living, for example). Likewise, inherit has a meaning “to get (or to choose to live a certain way) because of the influence or example of” (someone).

Those of you who know me may see where I’m going with this (and how I got to these two words this morning, because of who that someone is): Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Luke 17:21 “…Look! There it is! God’s kingdom is [inherent] in you.”

In other words, because I, in choosing (or being chosen by) Jesus Christ, am “one who has inherited or is entitled to inherit or has been chosen to inherit upon Christ’s death”, and I am “one who has come into possession of or who has received as a right or divine portion” and I am “one who was inherently born with and has decided to live with (morally and ethically)” eternal life.

We humans have an inherent knowledge of what is Right and what is Wrong. We have inherited the consequences (a broken world) of bad choices, but we can choose to follow our inherent nature and inherit the kingdom of God.

As always, I love to hear your feedback! Please feel free to comment!

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