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Word of the Day: BLIND

Word of the Day: BLIND

A facebook friend asked me the other day why we don’t say BLOUND for the past tense of the verb to BLIND, just as we say GROUND, FOUND, BOUND, and WOUND. He thought it would be pretty snazzy to say, “She BLOUND me with her beauty!” Well, I have to admit that that would be expressive. And there is precedent for the move “backwards” from regular verbs towards what we somewhat inaccurately call “irregular” verbs — what the German grammarians called “strong verbs,” because they preserved their own darned preterites with internal changes and all, na ja, and didn’t merely take ’em handed to them by rule, as did the “weak verbs” with their lame little dental suffix.

That is, languages over time tend to level away what are perceived as irregularities, through the force of analogy. There was a time when a huge number of English nouns did NOT take their plural in -S, but the most common declension prevailed. The force grows greater over time, because every new noun goes into the default declension, and every new verb goes into the default conjugation (in Latin, the first, in -ARE; as also now in Italian). But every so often the force works the other way. It’s what causes little kids to say BRANG and BRUNG, after the pattern of SANG and SUNG. It’s also what has given rise to the American past tense of DIVE: DOVE, by analogy with DROVE, STROVE, CLOVE; and the alternate past participles PROVEN, MOWN, and SOWN, none of which is original, as can be perceived from their weak German counterparts. But I don’t think that the force of FOUND, BOUND, and so on is strong enough to replace BLINDED with BLOUND, especially since we don’t have frequent cause to use the verb anyhow.

FIND and BIND are Class 3 Strong Verbs, almost all of which have a front vowel followed by a nasal consonant, usually followed by another consonant also. The class is the most easily recognizable of the seven classes: DRINK, DRANK, DRUNK; SING, SANG, SUNG; SWIM, SWAM, SWUM; some of them have had their preterits and participles fall together: SLING, SLUNG. BLIND is a “weak” verb, but that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting in its own right. It’s a causative verb, built in old Germanic times by adding the infinitive suffix -JAN to a root. The -JAN caused the raising of the vowel in the root when possible, so that we have some interesting pairs, such as DEEM, which is the causative of DOOM = JUDGMENT; SET, the causative of SIT (built from the preterit SAET); DRENCH, causative of DRINK (built from the preterit DRANC); to FELL, causative of FALL. BLIND, as a verb (Proto Germanic BLANDJAN > BLENDAN > BLINDAN), is the causative of the adjective BLAND > BLIND.

The idea behind the word is that you are DAZZLED by the BRIGHTNESS of something. Of course we are more likely to think of the opposite. So Milton:

But cloud instead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair
Presented with a universal blank
Of Nature’s works to me expunged, and ras’d,
And Wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.

I think everybody has at one time or another wondered what it would be like to be BLIND, or whether it would be harder to be BLIND than to be deaf, or the other way around. BLINDNESS is a common motif in Scripture, and it is almost always associated with willful refusal to see what is in front of your eyes. That sort of thing is behind what Lewis has Uncle Screwtape say, that the chief job of the devils is not, as the human beings suppose, to put thoughts in their heads, but to keep thoughts from getting in; because reality and reason are all on the side of the Enemy Above. Chesterton has been called an apostle of the obvious, and that’s not meant as faint praise. All of our passions, when they wriggle out of the control of reason, tend to BLIND us; lust, ambition, political partisanship, envy, vindictiveness. But I wouldn’t say that of passions generally. Love, said Richard of Saint Victor, is an eye; and so that rational and supra-rational desire that he calls AMOR (not LIBIDO) is a revealing force. We may reverse the saying: it isn’t so much that we LOVE people once we get to know them, as that we can only really get to know them by the eye that is love. And then we may be BLINDED by the glory of it.