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Etymology of Lead

While the use of a word "Lead" or "Leadership" is contextual, the Etymology of Lead, does assist us in seeing how we have come to perceive a word's meaning. It also may give us clues as to what concepts societies have attached to it.

Let, then, break down "leadership" by associating a concept to it and then ask the vital questions of whether it is something for you and why. We start by looking at the etymology, since language is the fundamental device by which we convey ideas. There must be agreement on a term before using it. Keep in mind, however, that etymology, and in this case the etymology of lead, isn't the final verdict on how a term should be used; it only gives an idea of how people have used the term in the past. In other words it helps us place the word in context but is not meant to bind us to that usage.

There are various etymological accounts for the word "lead", from which "leadership" comes. We have:

From Middle English leed, from Old English lēad ("lead"), from Proto-Germanic *laudan ("lead"), from Proto-Indo-European *lAudh- ("lead"). Cognate with West Frisian lead ("lead"), Dutch lood ("lead"), German Lot ("solder, plummet, sounding line"), Swedish lod ("lead"), Irish luaidhe ("lead"), Lithuanian liudē ("plumb, plummet, plumbline"). Alternative etymology suggests the possibility that Proto-Germanic *laudan may derive from Proto-Celtic *loudhom, from an assumed Proto-Italo-Celtic *ploudhom, from Proto-Indo-European *plou(d)- ("to flow"). If so, then cognate with Latin plumbum ("lead"). [1]

and -

Origin: before 900; Middle English leden, Old English lǣdan (causative of līthan to go, travel); cognate with Dutch leiden, German leiten, Old Norse leitha. [2]

and, still -

lead (v.) "to guide," O.E. lædan "cause to go with one, lead," causative of liðan "to travel," from W.Gmc. *laithjan (cf. O.S. lithan, O.N. liða "to go," O.H.G. ga-lidan "to travel," Goth. ga-leiþan "to go"). Meaning "to be in first place" is from late 14c. The noun is first recorded c.1300, "action of leading." Meaning "the front or leading place" is from 1560s. Johnson stigmatized it as "a low, despicable word." Sense in card-playing is from 1742; in theater, from 1831; in journalism, from 1927; in jazz bands, from 1934. [3]

Then, there is Webster's:

Origin of LEAD Middle English leden, from Old English lǣdan; akin to Old High German leiten to lead, Old English līthan to go First Known Use: before 12th century [4]

All these commonly accessed sources center on 900 C.E.-onward. There surely was word for the concept of one following the other before this time, but it is interesting to note that there does not seem to a pre-900 B.C.E. history, i.e., there is no Western classical etymology of lead, such as in Latin or Greek, or any roots in Asia, Africa, or the Orient. Even in Europe, "leader" and its antecedents seem to have been looked upon with disfavor in the Renaissance by Johnson. To get more of a personal use of the word, we have to jump to another concept to get the same or similar meaning of "lead". For "conduct", we go back to Classical times and find ducere. [5] Indeed, Benito Mussolini referred to himself as "Duce", comparable to the German "Fuehrer", or, literally, "leader". Now these are personalization's! One then may wonder that with all the courses and programs, and almost an obsession with persons becoming a "leader", why isn't a word along the lines of "conductor" used instead to highlight the fact a person is involved? Why not courses in "conductorship", because the Latin seems to be more personalized.

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