Eldridge’s Etymology of the Week–Personality

“Personality is the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncrasy of a living being. It is an act of courage flung in the face of life, the absolute affirmation of all that constitutes the individual, the most successful adaptation to the universal conditions of existence, coupled with the greatest possible freedom of self-determination.” [C.G. Jung, 1875-1961]

So this week’s etymology is a word that seems like it should simply be taken at face value. But then again, we should never judge a book by its cover. This week’s etymology is personality, 1) the quality or condition of being a person; 2) the totality of qualities and traits, as of character or behavior, that are peculiar to a specific person.

Personality, personal, persona, person, all come from the same ancient Latin root personalis, which entered English from two sources: around 1225 from the Old French word personne “human being” and from Medieval Latin personalitatem, c. 1380. Previous to this English preferred the ancient mann, a gender-neutral noun that described all humans: as in mankind (OE, mancynn, from cynn “kin”); but, eventually, it became more common to associate it with males. “Woman,” in Old English was wif-mann: apparently your job was all defining.

Tragedy Mask

Person, personality, then, must have represented something different than the ancient mann, if the English adopted it. And this may be buried in the word’s history. Person is really a compound word: per– “through” and sonus “to sound”. It was originally applied to ancient actors who wore masks while on stage (like Shakespeare’s Dramatis Personae). You’ve, no doubt, seen the famous happy mask/sad mask combination that adorns many a thespian’s poster? This is a visual allusion to the ancient theater where actors wore masks (since most of the characters were gods or goddesses or legendary heroes human faces just wouldn’t do), which were equipped with megaphones so they could be heard by the entire amphitheater. So in the Latin we have a sense of a personality hiding what’s beneath. Much different in connotation than the strong and very physical Old English mann!

Tragedy Mask

And in many ways our personality is a mask we wear to the world. Oddly, though, if we pretend long enough and (paradoxically) honestly enough, we begin to take on those very characteristics. “Fake it until you make it” they always say.

And this leads us into the very modern notion that we may have different external and internal faces. Sigmund Freud took up this notion with a hunch that we refuse to recognize our real desires because we learn that they are unacceptable. So, in order to live with others, we submerge them into an area of the mind called the subconscious: those thoughts which might bubble up into the conscious if we would only let them. But never would we recognize the unconscious, which was a mighty reservoir of dark and uncontrollable impulses. This became a controlling impulse of much of 20th century research and engaged such great minds as Abraham Maslow (hierarchy of needs), Erik Erikson (social development), Erich Fromm (character), Karl Jung (collective unconscious), Jean Piaget (cognitive development), Lawrence Kohlberg (moral development).

This self-involved trend has blossomed, so to speak, in the last 25 years, and convinced us of the need to define ourselves. How much energy do we spend defining ourselves! Now coming to terms with who we are takes up entire lifetimes, when, perhaps, we may just be changing masks. Advertisers, always cleverly toying with our hopes and fears, have taken this to the max with “personal” computers (what amazing masks they wear!) that are “customized” with My Documents and My Music and My Favorites. Now there’s MySpace, which is really nospace and nowhere-but it most definitely reveals our ancient habit of being a person: broadcasting through our own ingeniously contrived masks.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

So I’d thought I throw this in. I think Maslow’s right; or, at least, really close.

Where are your needs (not) being met?

Hierarchy of Needs

31 thoughts on “Eldridge’s Etymology of the Week–Personality

  1. You do realize that you cannot give us a pop quiz on this tomorrow due to the fact that it is 11:11 pm at night at the moment [make a wish!] and thus we have all “listened” to your advice and guidance and have gone to sleep before 11…except for me, and my eyes are getting heavy…i should take your advice and go to sleep!.=D haha, but since I haven’t been on the blog I wish to come back into the loop hole….

  2. Yes, sleep Christina, sleep. Your eyes are getting heavy, and you feel so relaxed, warm, cozy.

    You never know, hypnosis might work!

    And it is “loop”. A “loophole” is a legal way to get out of something, as in tax loophole. Loop is a ring of communication/knowledge.

  3. wow i really liked this etymology of the week. gosh xtina what are you doing up so late. huhuhuhuh i wonder i wonder. just kidding. anyways back to subject i think that my needs are not being met in confidence. it may seem that i am a very confident person but sometimes the fear of me being wrong just throws me off and i rather keep some thoughts to myself.

    wow that is so cool to learn what personality meant way back then. i never thought it would have a drastic change in its definition. now we relate it to our own personal description and back then it was as if they were being disguised. i am so amazed can’t you tell mr.E.

  4. Haha, wow I wrote loophole…wow…oh well..new word..haha…i’ll start the definition…”christina being very tired and not writing loop.”

  5. Reading about Sigmund Freud and his proposal on our behavior made me think back on our discussion in Ms. Robinson’s class. Looking back on my notes, it says that Freud believed that the Id is based on the pleasure principle and does whatever it wants without any consideration for the reality of the situation.

    Since this week’s etymology is personality, I think it would be safe to say that our Id’s are important parts of our personalities, although they may be dormant and revealed only in rare situations. Our Id’s reveal what we really want and desire despite how we typically act on a day-to-day basis. We restrain our Id’s to blend in with society to make sure that no one judges us, ensuring our acceptance into our society.

    Shakespeare said that all the world’s a stage, meaning that we all play different roles in life, personifying different people. I would agree that our personalities make us different “characters” in life and that our role as that character continues on as long as we live.

  6. Yes, Julie, but remember that a lot of work has been done since Freud passed-on, and many of his initial ideas, while persuasive have been questioned and modified.

    For example, Freud thought that morality was nothing but a sad excuse for being guilty about what you (ie., your id) really want(s). But there are those who willingly sacrifice every personal desire for others–in fact, they don’t even feel personal desire. Now Freud would say s/he was merely delusional. But theorists like Kohlberg worked out stages of moral development that seem to progressively free us from the id, or at least the most animalistic of our tendencies.

    Level I. Preconventional Morality

    Stage 1. Obedience and Punishment Orientation.
    Stage 2. Individualism and Exchange.

    Level II. Conventional Morality

    Stage 3. Good Interpersonal Relationships.
    Stage 4. Maintaining the Social Order.

    Level III. Postconventional Morality

    Stage 5. Social Contract and Individual Rights.
    Stage 6: Universal Principles.

    You can read more at http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/kohlberg.htm

    What do you think?

  7. wow most interesting! I’ve been dying to get to the topic of morals and personality.

    I always saw moralities as a set of “rules” that each individual follows and becomes more solid as we mature and grow older. Freud’s theory is non-sense. Sure we are animals and EVERY animal has their ids, but morals is what separates us from other animals. Morals are more of guides than excuses. Along with the intelligence that humans have over other animals, morals is what helped us establish what are species is today. Had all humans lacked morality, we’d be just another species fighting against natural selection.

    And as for personalities, I’ve always wondered what it is. Our personalities are what make us us, right? Well what about all the little things we pick-up from other people? I’ve found myself picking up the habits and ‘personalities’ of others several too many times. For example: I never laughed silently until I had met someone i really liked to be around. Does this make my “personality” MY personal being, or that of other people and of our culture?

    Oh I can’t wait to talk about culture and customs… this blog was a genius idea.

    And sex. Sex is grouped with breathing and water. sorry i understand this is a bit immature, but do we really need sex to live…?

    What has this world come to.

    And please don’t totally flame me if I am so damn stupid T_T.

  8. I believe that today people are more vain and self-absorbed than ever before. What most people consider a personality today, I call an excuse for a friend request on Myspace. I’m probably being hypocritical (for I too have a Myspace), but nowadays with AIM, cellphones, etc. people are starting to lost that personal connection that really sparks relationships and gives them a chance to show their real personality. This new era of narcissism is leading to social isolation and in turn is causing extreme ego-stroking and self delusion that is destroying every sense of nationalism and community that has existed in the US for centuries. I am on board with wanting to be an individual and being different, but what we have here today is the diluted version of it. So is the development of a “personality” really worth the price we’re paying for?

  9. Sex is absolutely necessary to live. It relieves stress and tension, its great exercise, and its kind of necessary to the survival of the human race. Unlike most other species we live long after out usefulness. Most other species live only to produce offspring and then go off and die or be killed (praying mantis, black widow, etc.). I’m sure there are people who have never had sex in there life i.e. monks and nuns, but I’m sure its unhealthy and can lead to some strange and erratic behavior i.e. Vatican priests.

  10. Oh and as a note on the sex topic this is not from experience but instead completely from a MEDICAL standpoint (I’m a good kid). Self-deprivation never hurt anybody…except yourself.

  11. To what Randy was saying about adopting other personalities from people around us:

    I believe it does become our personality just because it is how we are expressing ourselves. It is us because it shows that we are continually adapting to others and it helps shape our lives. By hanging out with people you enjoy to hang out with (friends) you can learn new ways of showing your personality. An example of this is from my high school career so far, I was pretty nervous and shy my freshman year yet the more I talked to my friends and the more I saw from seniors and juniors, I began to talk more to other groups and not just my select group of friends. Now, many people will say I am not too shy but quite loud.

  12. Alright, these are great ideas. For a slightly different spin: “Character is not found, it is made.”

    Some of you seem to imply that a person/personality is set and we simply express it in different ways. Others seem to imply that our self changes… and some of us seem to be unclear if it is one or the other. What if we have control of who we become–at least to a large, if not total, extent.

  13. If personality is created then we are no more than the composition of ideas from other people!? That is horrible if you really think about it. So from the dawn of our life we are already doomed to a life of imprisonment. There is no longer any originality in the world simply a new expression of old ideas. Non conformists are simply conforming to not conforming. At this thought i am wondering what the first personality/personalities were. If the personalities are made not found then is not, “How can one make something from nothing?” a valid question? Anyways, when it comes to the question of morals i believe that morals are just nothing more than restrictions on our deepest desires. As the thing at the top says, ” Sigmund Freud took up this notion with a hunch that we refuse to recognize our real desires because we learn that they are unacceptable. So, in order to live with others, we submerge them into an area of the mind called the subconscious: those thoughts which might bubble up into the conscious if we would only let them.” Our desires are unacceptable why!? Are not our desires the things that keep us going in life? The only reason that some of our desires are considered unacceptable is because of “our” morals. Big idea is that I personaly hate being restricted by such feable ideas such morals. The definition from dictionary.com is as follows:of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong. Who has the authority to say what is right or wrong!-only we do. My last thought about this topic that i will write down is that we only restrict ourselves.

  14. “Character is not found, it is made”

    I believe in order to make character, you have to have real life experiences as well as the experiences of others. If you just choose to come out a specific way, it isn’t really fulfilling the process of making your character. My opinion is that in order to have any character you have to know what it is, and the only way of knowing what character is, is by seeing the experiences of yourself and others, and determining how your character will develop from those experiences.

  15. I’m so happy that Star Wars applies to everything. Anyways much like the young Skywalker choosing the path of the righteous over the dark side and becoming a man of virtues, so we all must create our own character over the course of our own galactic adventure.

  16. Well I actually like this blog because their is a lot of debate about whether or not people have differnt personalities. For me, i think that poeple do indeed have various personalities and this would seem as differetn moods adn behaviors. i think that I lay in the Esteem column. this is due to teh fact that sometimes I dont have that spark and that “believe in myself” speech. I need to learn how to do that more often because it can really affect a person.

  17. Randy, yes Sex is important to our specie. Like Brandon said, there are many good points to it, even though the topic has been corrupted and portrayed in a negative fashion. For example, if you remember the Disney Movie back in the 90’s titled “Lady and the Tramp”, the male dog says “Whats up bitch?”. Back then, people understood the original meaning. But now things have been twisted so much, slang terms developed, different perspectives to everything. Remember in the original West Side Story lyrics? “I feel pretty, oh so pretty, i feel pretty and witty and gay”. That doesn’t describe a homosexual person, as people use the word today. It just described a man that was very happy, perhaps because he was high on something.

  18. *Character is not found, it is made*

    When a baby is born, he/she is neither innocent, nor guilty, yet stuck in a third position, condemned to face the trials and heavy burdens put upon it by the world and its parents. Is it a child’s fault that he is born into poverty, a family of criminals, or a disease stricken village?

    Therefore, characteristics/traits are founds at birth, yet the character of a person is built over time. Some say that you cannot truly predict, understand, or analyze the character of a person, until he/she has expired, because everything a person does changes his or her character.
    *Judging character of a person*
    Say for instance, a man is convicted of a crime, and released 20 years later due to evidence of a mis-trial/conviction. During that time in captivity, he is considered a model citizen. A person observing him would show obvious biase view of fear or anger towards the man due to any previous experiences or connections. But when the truth is revealed that he was wrongly accused and actually innocent of the crime, we change our opinion.

    The point is that we cannot truly judge a person’s life until that person is dead, and no longer able to change or influence anyone. Only recently, a DNA Test has changed the world’s view of Andrew Jackson. 150 years after his death, we discover his hidden secrets. Remember “Da vinci Code”? A secret so grave and powerful, that it would change the entire world. As it is almost 2 AM, i really have no idea what i’m saying here. I’ll get my point out in a more clean way later.

  19. New Question: Is it possible to have two different personalities? [Thomas, Brandon -> i am not referring to schizophrenia, because i know one of you will talk about that.] Have you observed someone with a different personality? Perhaps one personality at school, and another at home? Do they truly have two different personalities, or just two different sides to a single personality? Think about it.

  20. Wow Vijay. Your question just described me. haha.

    I think I might have two different sides to my single personality. At school, I am “quiet but intimidating” (quoted by Lucia) and to me, I hide part of my personality that I don’t want others to see. However when I’m at home, I am more of myself but I also hide a part of me too. So I guess maybe I have three sides? Is it because I keep things to myself which makes it a 3rd side??? I don’t know…

    How many parts are there to me? Does that mean that I, myself, don’t know who I really am? Do people really know who they are? What makes us be the way we are?

    How do we know that we would grow up with a certain personality that is said we had since the time we were born? Doesn’t a personality also come with the way we grew up like how parents, friends, teachers, etc taught us?

    For example, my cousin is a spoiled brat that doesn’t want to learn or do anything but watch tv. What makes her like that? In my opinion (& my family’s), she is like that because it was the way her parents raised her to be, which is sad because that is the only thing she learned to be. Another example might be those who turned to the dark side because of the “friends” they hung out with. They thought that maybe they had to change in order to fit in with them. So wouldn’t that prove the point that people shape others into the things they learn or by who they hang out with? But then again, I really don’t know…

  21. OK Let’s try this one more time… this is for Mr. Eldridge. I believe that a person’s personality is something very sensitive and very important to everyone.I actually like this blog because their is a lot of debate about whether or not people have different personalities. For me, i think that people do indeed have various personalities and this would seem as different moods and behaviors. I think that I lay in the Esteem column, due to the fact that sometimes I dont have that spark and that “believe in myself” speech. I need to learn how to do that more often because it can really affect a person. Everyone says that you build up a certain personality because of who you talk to and who you hang out with, but in reality, we choose who to be and just because we talk to bad people and hang out with the wrong people does not mean that we have to become just like them.

  22. I AGREE WITH LUIS!!!!! [i’ll go into detail about it in a second….btw…YAY LUIS! no mistakes [well i dont see any]

  23. Alright, so before I start I apologize because I am assuming my response is going to be a very long one, so yea you guys don’t have to read it…

    Acceptance…everyone has their limit. Personally, I am accepting of most people; with the few that I just cannot stand (those reach my limit). When I say accept, I mean I accept people into my life; I allow for them to create a relationship with me; I accept those who are different from me, regardless of their background or what they do (as long as it does not affect me I am fine with having them near me); yet, I can be prejudice sometimes, I admit. No one can escape that quality in their personality. I can be accepting but my limit is when prejudice kicks in. I can be spontaneous..=D..see? Haha, problem solving…I can solve life problems…math word problems, that’s another story. Hmm…self-esteem. I have confidence in myself when it comes to academics because I know exactly what I am doing and what I need to accomplish in order to attain my goals. I know how to play the game. Socially, I sometimes question myself because I am different to those that surround me (other than my close friends). I have an “old-fashion” mind which I observe myself to be one of the few (at least in my generation). Sometimes I don’t fit in when I am around some people because they have their lives in a different social “circle” than I do…those people have different priorities in their life than I do. So sometimes I question if I am “normal” I guess I can put it that way…I mean, those people think that getting high and drunk and having sex is “fun!” And I’m just like “What the heck???” That’s not my idea of having “fun!”…I’m more of the type that likes to go out with friends, hang out, watch a movie, go to DISNEYLAND…=D….I sometimes feel uncomfortable because those people know I think differently and they isolate me from the group…but then I remember the achievements I have accomplished and compare myself to those people, and I just forget about feeling uncomfortable because I see that what I believe in and my morals have led me to where I am today. Concerning respect, I respect those that respect me, simple as that. You disrespect me or disrespect someone close to me, you’re out of the picture. It may sound harsh but that’s the way I think: I lose respect for people if they lie to me or try to harm me. Love/belonging: I have awesome friends who are close to me and support me, most of all respect me. Friends are awesome to have because you are able to associate yourself with people who are similar to you but also different and thus you have a balance within the group. Family is very important for me…if I didn’t have my parents and sister, I honestly do not know where I would be right now. My parents have instilled in me the very values I follow every day. I don’t follow them because my parents tell me to, I do it because I know its right and I have seen people destroy their lives because they have deviated from those values. So I believe that people’s personalities emerge due to experiences and loss of innocence. A topic that has basically become the MAIN topic in high school junior year (it seems to me)..Sex…

    Is it me or has sex become something that is a “must” to everyone at school? I’ve seen more pregnant girls than before (most of them juniors!)..is it because it’s junior year and they’re getting stressed? If so, go to the stupid park…I mean c’mon you’re alleviated from your problems there…but sex…I understand some want to experience it before getting married..what bothers me the most is that people do it…realize it was a mistake…and then do it again…umm, hello, was the first time not enough for you? Again, this is where my old fashion thoughts kick in, our generation now sees sex as an everyday kinda thing..”Did you hear she had sex with him?”…our automatic answer “so?” or “really? [because we’re interested in the gossip, not the person’s feelings]”…it is stupid for me to see girls screwing up their life because of a small impulse. I can understand loving and caring about someone, but I cannot understand why girls accept to have sex with their boyfriends (one-time deal). Yea, I understand their in love or care for each other, but no…Loving and caring for someone does not necessarily mean that sex is the answer. Most guys say “if you love me, you’ll do it for me” and the girls do it because they are in love…guys are in it for the physicality (at least a part of them is in it for the physical of the relationship, while the other is in it for the actual love and caring and compassion)…it’s so weird that sex is so common, especially in teens, freaks me out, because so many girls are susceptible to having sex right now….

  24. Just a quick note: Schizophrenia is a mental illness where the subject has visual and auditory hallucinations (see A Beautiful Mind). It is NOT multiple-personality disorder, which is a completely different disorder. MPD is closer to–but still very different from–bi-polar disorder, which is much more common, and understandable/comprehensible.

    Let’s not go too far with this sex tangent. While not wildly off-topic, it is more of a sociological or physiological question than a personality question. Though those do somewhat overlap. And, if we can, let’s try to focus our personal reactions into a statement of argument. By this I mean we take personal experience or data and try to develop more consistent rules or habits that we can then apply more abstractly. In other words, keep the tone philosophical and investigative (focus on why people might act that way) rather than personal.

    Keep it up!

  25. if u want eldo (haha may i call you that..?) u can take off my 1st comment of today..i’ll write up another one….a more philosophical one…=D…

  26. No, this is good. We need to all see we can have personal reactions/feelings/thoughts that can then be focused into something more elevated, thoughtful. This is a process.

    Ideally, your journal is a place to record these feelings and ideas in their rawest form. Then, with a little time, they begin to coalesce into meaningful units. If we can make a meaningful statement (rather than JUST passionate) then we’ve got the process down.

    It’s always process.

    -Mostly, I want you to use “you” instead of “u” and “I” instead of “i”. Good habits need to be encouraged.

  27. Oops,well, good habits are encouraged but old habits dont die quickly….I don’t know, this topic just annoyed me a lot because that’s what everyone seems to be thinking about…well not everyone but the majority…by the way, I printed what I typed.=D

  28. I think that someone’s personality is basically who that person is. Fake or not, you can tell a lot about the person by their personality. And like vijay, or whoever i dont know, said about the people who act differently at home or around different people. One could immediately think their just fake but think about your comfort level. I try to act the same towards everyone but its inevitable, when im around my inner circle of friends (they know who they are) im more comfortable and maybe i show more of who i am. Everyone one does it. And so i dont know how my personality is but you can observe how others act and react and thats their personality.

    And Christina yeah girls who get pregnant or people who just sleep around and get diseases is sad and it makes sex seem bad. But its a normal thing but you just have to be mature about it. Personally i dont think sex is that big a deal and i dont agree with some ppl who think it is some sacred thing and only for marriage but if thats what you believe whatever but i dont think you need to be in love to do it, just be careful and have fun.

    Also being “in love” is great and all. But this is high school. Your suppose to be experiencing tons of things so when your older your “knowledgable”. So umm dont take things so seriously. By the way this is in no way personally directed to Christina.

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