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By Plato, Benjamin Jowett

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There are associations of sound and of sense by which every word is linked to every other. One letter harmonizes with another; every verb or noun derives its meaning, not only from itself, but from the words with which it is associated. Some reflection of them near or distant is embodied in it. In any new use of a word all the existing uses of it have to be considered. Upon these depends the question whether it will bear the proposed extension of meaning or not. ' When they cease to retain this living power of adaptation, when they are only put together like the parts of a piece of furniture, language becomes unpoetical, in expressive, dead.

HERMOGENES: That is my notion. SOCRATES: Whether the giver of the name be an individual or a city? HERMOGENES: Yes. SOCRATES: Well, now, let me take an instance;−−suppose that I call a man a horse or a horse a man, you mean to say that a man will be rightly called a horse by me individually, and rightly called a man by the rest of the world; and a horse again would be rightly called a man by me and a horse by the world:−−that is your meaning? HERMOGENES: He would, according to my view. SOCRATES: But how about truth, then?

And not only so, but letters themselves have a significance; as Plato observes that the letter rho accent is expressive of motion, the letters delta and tau of binding and rest, the letter lambda of smoothness, nu of inwardness, the letter eta of length, the letter omicron of roundness. These were often combined so as to form composite notions, as for example in tromos (trembling), trachus (rugged), thrauein (crush), krouein (strike), thruptein (break), pumbein (whirl),−−in all which words we notice a parallel composition of sounds in their English equivalents.

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Cratylus by Plato, Benjamin Jowett


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