16 Words to Think With


“And God said. . .”

“Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.”

In the beginning there was language, and in the everlasting there shall be language. We do not ever get away from language, or from words. The fact of words never leaves us. We are run through with words and their meanings and their power. We do not understand ourselves or each other without words. We do not conceive of the future or understand the past without words. We cannot think or create without words. Words are in our souls because ideas are in our souls. We embody those ideas as we embrace and live through the words of our lives. We all have words. We never get away from words. But we can also choose which words to embrace and to live through. We have no choice that there are words, but we have significant choice of which words will make us who we are. We do well to embrace and to live through the best words we can choose. The list below is a good place to start.

The Words

“These are the words that precede logic.” -Andrew Kern

The following list of sixteen words I unabashedly stole from Andrew Kern (not that he necessarily owns them any more than you). In his lecture, A Celebration of Beauty, Pt 2., Kern listed these sixteen words as words “to think with.” I understand that to mean these are words that should form a foundation upon which our thoughts and, by implication, our teaching and our own education stand. We should take these words into our souls and then see the world “through” them. We should bring these words into our teaching and give them as rich gifts to our students. One could probably add more words, but this list is a great start. I have added definitions that seemed appropriate (mostly and unashamedly copied from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, and a couple from Wikipedia) plus some quotes I was able to rummage to help us think about the words’ meanings and uses (and to think about other things too). However, and this is far more important than memorizing a word list, these are words that need to be pondered over a lifetime and understood beyond their mere dictionary meanings. They should be contemplated in the fullness of their uses and origins, and taken into one’s soul and embodied in one’s life. Also, notice how many have their origins in the 13th or 14th centuries, and also notice how many have their roots in Latin. What does that tell us?


Definition: 1) the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed; 2) formal reserve or seriousness of manner, appearance, or language.

Origin: Middle English dignete, from Anglo-French digneté, from Latin dignitat-, dignitas, from dignus. First Known Use: 13th century.

Quote: “What a soul that is which is ready, if at any moment it must be separated from the body, and ready either to be extinguished or dispersed or continue to exist; but so that this readiness comes from a man’s own judgement, not from mere obstinacy, as with the Christians, but considerately and with dignity and in a way to persuade another, without tragic show.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 11.3

Final Cause

Definition: The purpose, end, aim, or goal of something.

Origin: Aristotle? Greek: telos.

Quote: “For the deliberative faculty is the spirit’s power of contemplating a kind of cause—for one sort of cause is the final cause, as although cause means anything because of which a thing comes about, it is the object of a thing’s existence or production that we specially designate as its cause: for instance, if a man walks in order to fetch things, fetching things is the cause of his walking. Consequently people who have no fixed aim are not given to deliberation.” Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, Book 2


Definition: 1) the shape and structure of something as distinguished from its material; 2) the essential nature of a thing as distinguished from its matter; 3) established method of expression or proceeding; 4) a prescribed and set order of words; 5) conduct regulated by extraneous controls (as of custom or etiquette); 6) manner or conduct as tested by a prescribed or accepted standard; 7) one of the different modes of existence, action, or manifestation of a particular thing or substance; 8) orderly method of arrangement (as in the presentation of ideas) : manner of coordinating elements (as of an artistic production or course of reasoning); 9) the structural element, plan, or design of a work of art.

Origin: Middle English forme, from Anglo-French furme, forme, from Latin forma form, beauty. First Known Use: 13th century.

Quote: “But that man with whom the Word dwells does not alter himself, does not get himself up: he has the form which is of the Word; he is made like to God; he is beautiful; he does not ornament himself: his is beauty, the true beauty, for it is God; and that man becomes God, since God so wills.” Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3

Formal Cause

Definition: The pattern or form which when present makes matter into a particular type of thing, which we recognize as being of that particular type.

Origin: Aristotle?

Quote: “[A]s a quality, grace is said to act on the soul not as an efficient cause, but as a formal cause, as whiteness makes things white, or as justice makes things just.” St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica: Nature and Grace, Article Two


Definition: 1) good name or public esteem; 2) a showing of usually merited respect; 3) one whose worth brings respect or fame; 4) a gesture of deference; 5) an award in a contest or field of competition; 6) a keen sense of ethical conduct.

Origin: Middle English, from Anglo-French onur, honur, from Latin honos, honor. First Known Use: 13th century.

Quote: “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” 1 Peter 2:17 (KJV)


Definition: 1) firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; 2) an unimpaired condition; 3) the quality or state of being complete or undivided.

Origin: Middle English integrite, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French integrité, from Latin integritat-, integritas, from integr-, integer entire. First Known Use: 14th century.

Quote: “Then I have pointed out the truth, and shown the preaching of the Church, which the prophets proclaimed (as I have already demonstrated), but which Christ brought to perfection, and the apostles have handed down, from whom the Church, receiving [these truths], and throughout all the world alone preserving them in their integrity, has transmitted them to her sons.” Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book V


Definition: 1) a formal utterance of an authoritative opinion; 2) a formal decision given by a court; 3) the final judging of humankind by God; 4) the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing; 5) a proposition stating something believed or asserted.

Origin: 13th century.

Quote: “In agents that determine their own movements, the outward action goes upon some judgement pronouncing a thing good or suitable according as it is apprehended. If the agent pronouncing the judgement is to determine himself to judge, he must be guided to that judgement by some higher form or idea in his apprehension.” St. Thomas Aquinas, That Subsistent Intelligences have Free Will


Definition: 1) the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments; 2) the quality of being just, impartial, or fair; 3) the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action━conformity to this principle or ideal; 4) conformity to truth, fact, or reason.

Origin: Middle English, from Anglo-French justise, from Latin justitia, from justus. First Known Use: 12th century.

Quote: “Accordingly, these things have happened to you in fairness and justice, for you have slain the Just One, and His prophets before Him; and now you reject those who hope in Him, and in Him who sent Him.” St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter XVI

Just Sentiment

Definition: [Note: I am kludging together the definitions of “just” and “sentiment.”] 1) an attitude, thought, or judgment prompted by feeling while having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason; 2) refined feeling conforming to a standard of correctness; 3) an idea colored by emotion while acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good.

Origin of Just: Middle English, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French juste, from Latin justus, from jus right, law. First Known Use: 14th century.

Origin of Sentiment: French or Medieval Latin; French, from Medieval Latin sentimentum, from Latin sentire. First Known Use: 1639.

Quote: “I confess, indeed, that that is a just sentiment, and worthy of being particularly noticed — that no one can be punished by the decision of the Church, but one whose sin has become matter of notoriety[.]” John Calvin, Commentary on Corinthians, Vol. 1


Definition: 1) strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties; 2) affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests; 3) warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion; 4) the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration; 5) unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another; 6) the fatherly concern of God for humankind; 7) a god or personification of love.

Origin: Middle English, from Old English lufu; akin to Old High German luba love, Old English lēof dear, Latin lubēre, libēreto please. First Known Use: before 12th century.

Quote: “And it was not without reason that that remarkable and holy man, when he departed this life, left to me an unbounded regret for him, especially since he himself also glowed with such a love for me at all times, that, whether in matters of amusement or of business, he agreed with me in similarity of will, in either liking or disliking the same things. You would think that one mind had been shared between us two. Thus he alone was my confidant in my loves, my companion in my mistakes; and when, after the gloom had been dispersed, I emerged from the abyss of darkness into the light of wisdom and truth, he did not cast off his associate, but━what is more glorious still━he outstripped him.” Minucius Felix, Octavius, Chapter 1


Definition: 1) the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing, an inner force or the sum of such forces in an individual; 2) a creative and controlling force in the universe; 3) the physical constitution or drives of an organism; 4) a spontaneous attitude (as of generosity); 5) the external world in its entirety; 6) humankind’s original or natural condition.

Origin: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin natura, from natus, past participle of nasci to be born. First Known Use: 14th century.

Quote: “When men, then, give way to a dislike simply because they are entirely ignorant of the nature of the thing disliked, why may it not be precisely the very sort of thing they should not dislike? So we maintain that they are both ignorant while they hate us, and hate us unrighteously while they continue in ignorance, the one thing being the result of the other either way of it.” Tertullian, The Apology, Chapter 1


Definition: 1) the quality or state of being noble in character, quality, or rank; 2) the body of persons forming the noble class in a country or state.

Origin: Middle English nobilite, from Anglo-French nobilité, from Latin nobilitat-, nobilitas, from nobilis. First Known Use: 14th century.

Quote: “He is distinguished not only for his high birth, but also for the nobility of his mind, for his knowledge, and his irreproachable life.” St. Benard, Abbot of Clairvaux, Letter LXII to Pope Innocent


Definition: 1) the quality or state of being proper or suitable; 2) conformity to what is socially acceptable in conduct or speech; 3) obsolete : true nature; 4) obsolete : a special characteristic.

Origin: Middle English propriete, from Anglo-French proprieté, propreté property, quality of a person or thing. First Known Use: 14th century.

Quote: “The knowledge or confession of sins, sorrow on account of sin and a desire for deliverance, with a resolution to avoid sin, are pleasing to God as the very beginnings of conversion. In propriety of speech, these things are not the mortification itself of the flesh or of sin but necessarily precede it.” Jacobus Arminius, from On Penitence


Definition: 1) the quality or state of being pure.

Origin: Middle English purete, from Anglo-French purité, from Late Latin puritat-, puritas, from Latin purus pure. First Known Use: 13th century.

Quote: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” 1 Timothy 4:12-13 (KJV)


Definition: 1) something set up as an object or end to be attained; 2) a subject under discussion or an action in course of execution.

Origin: Middle English purpos, from Anglo-French, from purposer to intend, propose, from Latin proponere (perfect indicative proposui) to propose. First known use: 14th century.

Quote: “What is God’s purpose in creation and what is His purpose in redemption? It may be summed up in two phrases, one from each of our two sections of Romans. It is: ‘The glory of God’ (Romans 3:23), and ‘The glory of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21).” Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life, Chapter 7


Definition: 1) conformity to a standard of right; 2) a particular moral excellence; 3) a beneficial quality or power of a thing; 4) manly strength or courage; 5) a commendable quality or trait; 6) a capacity to act.

Origin: Middle English vertu, virtu, from Anglo-French, from Latinvirtut-, virtus strength, manliness, virtue, from vir man. First Known Use: 13th century.

Quote: “Since the life to come is to be attained through virtue, chief attention must be paid to those passages in which virtue is praised; such may be found, for example, in Hesiod, Homer, Solon, Theognis, and Prodicus.” St. Basil, Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature

1 Comment

  1. Tucker, this post has made me want to listen to Andrew’s talk again and reflect on these sixteen ideas more closely. Thanks you! Indeed, “We are run through with words and their meanings and their power.” As I was thinking about what you wrote, this quotation from Crider came to mind:

    “One of the chief human glories is language itself, our capacity to name the objects, actions, and relationships within our world, and then to arrange such names into predications. Richard Weaver, you will remember from Chapter I, argues that the capacity to fashion sentences is a wondrous, even terrible power: “The liberty to impose this formal unity is a liberty to handle the world, to remake it, if only a little, and to hand it to others in a shape which may influence their actions.” To shape one’s invented, disposed reflections upon an idea, an event, a text, or an artifact is to handle it, remake it, if only a little, and hand it to others in a shape that may influence their own reflections and actions. A rhetor must be articulate if he or she is to be a leader of souls.”

    The Office of Assertion p. 74

    So glad to be in the apprenticeship with you!

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