Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Word Origins 101 - Entertainment

Will Law and Order prevail sans-Meloni?
Premiere season 2011 is upon us. Wednesday prime time saw the season opener of ABC's Emmy award-winning Modern Family. At the same time, NBC premiered Law and Order, sans the good detective Elliot Stadler (Christopher Meloni). Thursday will bring on a slew of other premieres, including Community, Parks and Recreation, and The Office, and debut of the new show Whitney. Showtime, HBO and other premium networks are rolling out premieres of their hit shows, too.

So it seems like a fitting time to take a closer look at a word near and dear to us all: "entertainment." 

Enter comes from the French entre-, which itself derives from the Latin inter, meaning "among or within." The root tain is also Latin, and shows up in a lot of common words like contain, retain, maintain, and obtain. It means "hold." So, taken together, the two roots that make up the word entertain mean "hold within" or "hold among." Seems kind of obtuse at first, but it actually gives some insight into the nature of entertainment. Entertainment consists of all the things that we humans hold to be true, or funny, or sad, or suspenseful, or romantic. There is a communal, universal aspect to entertainment. No one ever wrote a play to appeal to one or two people. Plays and movies and sitcoms and one-liners are all written to appeal to us all, to the collective truths that we "hold among" ourselves. When we are entertained, our attentions are "held among" the universal dramas that ring true to us all.

Vote! What was the best premiere of the week?