Blog #1: The Thing From No Thing

For lack of better things to form my first blog, I’ll tell you one of my pet etymological theories.  It regards the English word ‘thing.’

The word ‘thing’ obviously comes from the Germanic root of the word Ding.  According to, Ding comes from the theoretical proto-Germanic word þingą (thinga), an assembly or ‘matter to discuss.’  The fact that the verb of this, for ‘to hold a meeting’ or ‘discuss’ is *þingōną (thingona) adds to the weight of my suspicion that this word is related to, if not directly derived from, the Greek word θιγγάνω (thingano).  θιγγάνω means ‘I take hold of’ or ‘I grasp,’ so it seems possible that it made its way into an old Germanic language when a tribal assembly was seen as a time to ‘take hold of’ discussed issues.  In a similar way, the English word ‘theory’ is derived from the Greek θεωρία (theoria), a way of seeing things, related to the verb θεωρέω (theoreo), ‘I see.’  In both cases a verb has become a noun about an occasion when that verb happens (a ‘time for taking hold of things,’ or a ‘way of seeing things’).  Of course, in both cases it’s a bit more complicated than that, but this will do for now.

The reason I find this interesting is because in Greek, most of the time when one sees an English translation of the word ‘thing’ it is not actually a translation of any specific Greek word for ‘thing.’  That’s right: most of the time, Greek has no word for ‘thing.’  Instead, Greek simply uses the word ‘the’ with nothing after it, meaning ‘the thing.’  If you take my Greek lessons, you’ll find out why this makes sense!

So, the English word for ‘thing’ is (possibly) ultimately derived from the Greek, even though Greek has no word for ‘thing’!  I hope you’ve enjoyed this has much as I have.