Word of the Year, 2017: Courage

There’s something about new beginnings, especially new years, that inspires people to make changes. Improve themselves.

Of course, people are notoriously bad at sticking with their new year’s resolutions. I have a better track record than most—because I’ve never been much for resolutions to begin with. I just do my thing, you know?

Towards the end of 2015 (or maybe the beginning of 2016?), I came across a lot of online discussion around the idea of, instead of resolutions, having a yearly word or mantra. The word focus jumped out at me before I even decided to commit myself to that idea; focus became my guiding word throughout 2016. It’s hard to do any kind of compare and contrast, of course, since I can’t exactly go back and relive 2016 without keeping the idea of focus in mind, but I like to think that I became marginally more productive and maybe even happier? Enough so that I decided to choose another word for 2017: courage.

It’s kind of scary to move to another country, to try to establish yourself as a freelance professional, to live in a world with Donald Trump and Jimmie Åkesson and UKIP, but you can’t really opt out of the scary bits. Too many times I’ve had an idea for something, or an urge to do something, only to ignore it because it might be difficult or I might make an ass of myself. Reminding myself of my own courage will get at least some of those things done; being inspired by the courage of others will maybe make it a little easier.

But the word itself, “courage.” Where does it come from?

English lifted it from Old French’s corage, meaning “heart; innermost feelings; temper.” And as you trace the word back through to proto Indo-European, this connection with both the physical organ of the heart and the more abstract notion of a person’s heart as their innermost strength and desire. Even as the English usage of “courage” refers to something like bravery, and being unafraid, it has a historic connection with the self in a way that “brave” does not—”brave” traces its roots through synonyms for bold, savage, wild, and other descriptions of behavior rather than character. (And behavior that is most likely reckless or even endangering.)

When facing uncertain times and an uncertain future, it’s important to remember you are, in your heart and in your core, so that you don’t compromise your most cherished principles.

Do you have a word of the year for 2017?


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