Greed Defined

.::. 12-15-2010 .::. written as pt 1 of my British Lit. final .::. Abigail Morris .::.

+ Greed Defined

            The Oxford English Dictionary defines greed primarily as “inordinate or insatiate longing, esp. for wealth; avarice or covetous desire.” It is Scottish in origin though the spelling varied and can be used as a verb (though such use is labeled “rare”). What seems most odd about the listing for the word is the first recorded date of use—1609. According to the OED, the word greed was first used by Simeon Graham in his The Anatomie of Humours in the sentence: “Whose avarice and gread of geare is such, that they care not whom with they joyne, so being they be ritch.” It’s a lovely sentence and rather a bit amusing once mentally paired with a typical Scottish accent. Interestingly, this leads to the entry for the word greedily, which actually predates greed, and whose origin depends entirely upon chosen spelling. It is defined as “one that is hungry or thirsty; with keen appetite; hungrily, ravenously, voraciously.”  Its first listed use is under the Norman spelling, graedilice, which is from The Hexameron of St. Basil in 1100. Still, with a date of 1100 the word seems a great deal younger than one would expect; however, if one continues following along through the words: greediness (earliest use 1154), greediron (obsolete), greedly (obsolete), and greeds (which has nothing to do with greed, but rather weeds and straw manure)—one would come to the entry for greedy. Much like the word greedily, its origin varies based upon spelling (well over ten variations are listed), but its earliest use was from Beowulf in the line 121 under a spelling whose reproduction in this paper would require a font I don’t have. That, strangely enough, would make greedy the earliest form of the word greed. Furthermore, only the word greed is closely tied with wealth, all the rest refer to gluttonous hunger and thirst. Perhaps that is why the traditional listing of the deadly sins includes avarice and gluttony rather than greed.


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