How often have you come across words that we use everyday only to finally realize how strange they are or what type of hidden meaning lurks deep inside the etymology of the word?
I’ve often been struck by how a person’s name becomes something completely different. ‘Walt Disney’ is a perfect example of it. It has become some common place and ubiquitous that the term signifies an entertainment conglomerate, but once upon a time there was a Mrs. Disney who named her son Walter. Walt was a boy who eventually ‘lost’ his name to colloquial English. That was one of the things I enjoyed most about the recent movie “Saving Mr. Banks” because it once again put a face to the common words we hear so often.
There are many other example of words that become so commonly used that they may lose their meaning. Or possibly they don’t lose their meaning but a normal person wouldn’t think about what it actually means.
The example that struck me the other day was “highness” such as “Your Highness.” I’ve been writing a short play called “The Last Princess” and one of the princess’ attendants used the words “your highness” to refer to her.
I stopped and pondered on the word “highness.” What the meaning of that?
It wasn’t hard to surmise that this is about status. A prince, princess, or any royalty has a status above everyone else. They have a “highness” about them. Everyone else bows in their presence. They sit on a throne high and above the common man. They have an ancestry that is revered, a lineage that is esteemed above all others, they may even have the Mandate of Heaven, a blessing from God upon their heads.
As an American who grew up without a monarchy, I have a heard time understanding the lure of status. A monarch is a person just like any other and yet we confer on them a high status – a highness. It seems to be a status that, to me, belongs in storybooks and fairy tales, but I understand the modern allure of keeping a country’s past monarchy alive. It is part of their culture and history and I respect that.
But “your highness” is not just a term that we use for a monarch, it is a special delineation that says that person is set apart, higher than myself, special, deserving of praise and adoration. I guess it takes someone like me to write about “The Last Princess” – an equalizing of society where everyone is of the same status and everyone has the same opportunities to live their lives how they please.
It may just be a word, but it is definitely packed full of meaning.
And those were the ramblings inside my brain about the small phrase “your highness.”