Before I get to the word tolerate, here is another piece of proof that I am, indeed, a Word Nerd!

I remember holding my breath as my parents purchased a set of encyclopedias [yep…I’m old enough to remember when they still sold those]. The salesman was offering a discount if they added in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary! How cool is a dictionary that comes in three–count ’em, three–volumes! I was drooling.

It was Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, for one thing!!! Every spelling bee kid craves one of those!!!
It had a whole section devoted to etymologies, for another.
It had not one, but three, foreign language dictionaries.

My parents said yes, and the dictionary was mine. Well, technically it was theirs, since they paid for it and all, but you get my point.

The evolving nature of dictionaries has always fascinated me. I mean, a word is a word and it means what it means, right?

Not so fast! Let’s look at the word tolerate, for instance.

According to my Webster’s New World College Dictionary, tolerate comes from the Latin "tolerare" meaning to bear, sustain, tolerate. That comes from Indo-European root "tel-" meaning to lift up, bear. The Indo-Europeans in turn got that base word from the Latin "tollere"–to lift up. [It’s absolutely fascinating how words bridge back and forth between cultures, but then, I am the Word Nerd!]

The first definition for tolerate in my dictionary is "To not interfere with; allow; permit." I wonder if those people in our postmodern culture who believe they should be tolerated really want to be "born" like a trial or "sustained" like something weak or "allowed" like a small child. 

Personally, I want to be heard and accepted for what I am as an equal player on the field of ideas. I want to hear others’ ideas and butt my ideas up against theirs. I don’t want merely to be born, or allowed–as though I, or any American, need permission to exist in the Marketplace of Ideas!

What a measley concept, and condescending to the one being tolerated, akin to being patted on the head like a good girl or good boy.

The second definition of tolerate is "to recognize and respect (others’ beliefs, practices, etc.) without sharing them." Now that sounds like being equals in the Marketplace of Ideas that is our America.

Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary (,tolerate) says tolerate means, "To suffer to be or to be done without prohibition or hinderance; to allow or permit negatively, by not preventing; not to restrain; as, to tolerate opinions or practices."

Notice how the "allowing and not preventing" was the second definition back in Noah Webster’s time. Although, I’m not sure I’d want people to "suffer" through my ideas, either. 🙂 We use that word differently now, too.

Word usage shifts through time.

Next time, I’m going to take a look at some words suggested by readers.