An Etymology and Use Lesson

nation (n.) c. 1300, from Old French nacion “birth, rank; descendants, relatives; country, homeland” (12c.) and directly from Latin nationem (nominative natio) “birth, origin; breed, stock, kind, species; race of people, tribe,” literally “that which has been born,” from natus, past participle of nasci “be born” (Old Latin gnasci).

As you can see above, the word nation has some old roots, but all of them have to to with birth and origin. Our new president has been throwing around this word the past week, and certainly used it widely on the campaign trail.

If we are to understand why he’s using this word, we have to understand it’s roots in the political arena. In the 18th and 19th century the word began to be used to define “one ethnic, cultural, religious, or identity group” (Wikipedia), which then could claim its own rights. These people included the Germans and Italians, who eventually formed their own countries out of many smaller states. Examples of more modern created nations include Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia, which arose out of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Each country represents people whose identity derives from a shared sense of language, heritage and culture.

In the mid 20th century the concept of nation was taken to an extreme by a German political  movement called Nationalsozialismus (National Socialism). In a more simple form of the word, nazism. The word nazi derives from the first two syllables of the German form of the word national: na-tsi. I trust I do not have to explain what the German nazis did to achieve their political, social and economic goals?

Nation. It’s a simple word. But it has some hard facts (not alternate facts) attached to it. Our new president seems to be using the word in a hard way. His speeches and deeds seem to be focusing on creating a United States that mirrors the rise of Nazi Germany. Let’s make sure our understanding and use of the word nation doesn’t become extreme.


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