Universe - Etymology, Synonyms and Definitions

Etymology, Synonyms and Definitions

See also: Cosmos, Nature, World (philosophy), and Celestial spheres

The word universe derives from the Old French word Univers, which in turn derives from the Latin word universum. The Latin word was used by Cicero and later Latin authors in many of the same senses as the modern English word is used. The Latin word derives from the poetic contraction Unvorsum — first used by Lucretius in Book IV (line 262) of his De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) — which connects un, uni (the combining form of unus, or "one") with vorsum, versum (a noun made from the perfect passive participle of vertere, meaning "something rotated, rolled, changed").

An alternative interpretation of unvorsum is "everything rotated as one" or "everything rotated by one". In this sense, it may be considered a translation of an earlier Greek word for the universe, περιφορά, (periforá, "circumambulation"), originally used to describe a course of a meal, the food being carried around the circle of dinner guests. This Greek word refers to celestial spheres, an early Greek model of the universe. Regarding Plato's Metaphor of the sun, Aristotle suggests that the rotation of the sphere of fixed stars inspired by the prime mover, motivates, in turn, terrestrial change via the Sun. Careful astronomical and physical measurements (such as the Foucault pendulum) are required to prove the Earth rotates on its axis.

A term for "universe" in ancient Greece was τὸ πᾶν (tò pán, The All, Pan (mythology)). Related terms were matter, (τὸ ὅλον, tò ólon, see also Hyle, lit. wood) and place (τὸ κενόν, tò kenón). Other synonyms for the universe among the ancient Greek philosophers included κόσμος (cosmos) and φύσις (meaning Nature, from which we derive the word physics). The same synonyms are found in Latin authors (totum, mundus, natura) and survive in modern languages, e.g., the German words Das All, Weltall, and Natur for universe. The same synonyms are found in English, such as everything (as in the theory of everything), the cosmos (as in cosmology), the world (as in the many-worlds hypothesis), and Nature (as in natural laws or natural philosophy).

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