Saturday, 25 July 2015

Slippery Words: 3 - "Courage" (and bravery)

The English word "courage" is rooted in the Latin word "cor" meaning "heart".

Here are some other words with the same root (cor/cord):  accord, cordial, core, concord, discord, discordant, encourage, record.

"Brave" is a  Middle French word which has been directly imported into English.  It meant "splendid, or "valiant".

 ( In former times, a man decked out in his finest clothing would be described as being in his "braveries"  - how splendid!).

I do not believe that the two words are synonyms.

I think that "bravery"  is a learned behaviour.  For example, the best military training teaches women and men how to be brave.

Thus Senator John McCain exhibited bravery when he flew his naval jet on combat missions in Viet-Nam. Similarly the Viet-Nam era American and Australian ground troops know as "Tunnel Rats" were brave -  as a result of their training.


When I visited Viet-Nam I tried to enter one of those tunnels.  Even 'though it had been enlarged for the benefit of tourists I had to withdraw after no more than 10 yards. I was overwhelmed with claustrophobia.  I was not brave, even in peace time.

I was not brave, but what about courage?

It seems to me that those who have not been trained to be  brave are very often courageous.

I think of those women and men who sheltered Jewish men, women and children during the N-zi era.

One such courageous Polish  woman sheltered Jewish children in her cellar, even as Gestapo agents sequestrated her home.

After WW II,  (and following  the subsequent Soviet Russian domination of Poland),  this woman was free to speak her mind.  Her witness was that she had never planned to protect Jewish children,  but when the time came she knew what she had to do, and to hell with the consequences..

Oh such genuine courage!  A courage for which she risked her life.


 Courage bears a price; it holds a risk.

That is why I am a skeptic regarding the recent ESPY award for courage  which was awarded to the man who wishes to be known as Caitlyn Jenner.

If he, Bruce Jenner, wishes to be known as Caitlyn -  all well and good.

But let us not describe his/her decision as courageous,

It is a decision of convenience which bears no price, and carries no cost,


COURAGE, if it is applied to Bruce/Caitlyn is an entirely slippery word,

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