uplifting words of encouragement and hope

Word Nerd: Uplifting Words to Weather Stressful Times

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Origins of the Words of Encouragement and Strength We Need Right Now

This time on Word Nerd I want to focus on some encouraging words that have been helping me weather this strange time so many of us are sharing. Again, you’ll see me mentioning Proto Indo European or (PIE), which is a theoretical language that was created using linguistic reconstruction.   


This word comes to English from an Old French word, corage, which refers to the innermost feelings and temperament of one’s emotional heart.  French got it from Vulgar Latin, coraticum, itself a combination of the Latin word, cor, meaning “heart,” and the noun-forming suffix, –aticum.  Latin likely got it from the PIE root word kerd which meant “heart.”  You’ll recognize this root in words related to the heart, such as cardiac, myocardium, cardio, and also words like accord, concord, core, and credo.  

The word evolved through Old English and Middle English and didn’t come to mean something roughly akin to “valor,” until the 14th century.  In Middle English, it referred to anything in one’s innermost mind or thoughts, so it was often paired with a clarifying adjective such as bold, wicked or careful, which in this use means that one’s heart is full of cares; in other words, that one is sad.  

Prior to the introduction of the word courage, English speakers would use ellen, meaning “valor, strength, fortitude, zeal,” which came to English through the Proto-Germanic word aljana.   

The other day, my mom reminded me of a saying my dear sweet grandma has used many times throughout her years: “Have courage.”  As my grandma is approaching her 100th birthday at the end of this month during these uncertain times of pandemic, having courage is something we all must cling to. 

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

Maya Angelou 


First recorded in the 1620s, this word literally means, “the act of rebounding,” and comes from Latin resiliens and resilire, “to recoil or rebound.”  Re- meaning “back” and salire, “meaning to jump, leap.” The word salire is likely formed from the PIE root word sel meaning, “spring, leap, gush, or quake.”  Certainly, we could all use a bit of resiliency in these trying times. 

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”

Steve Maraboli


This is an extremely old word and no one is sure of its origins. In Old English, the verb form was hopian, and cognates can be found in many of the Germanic languages. The noun form was hopa, and meant something like “confidence in the future.”  

In the Latin languages, the word for hope is some form of esperer, which roughly translates as “to wait” or “to expect.”  In Arabic, the word is amal and is often used as a first name, see Amal Clooney. 

“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,  

Whispering ‘it will be happier’…” 

Alfred Lord Tennyson 


From Old English togædere, meaning “to be present as an accumulated mass in one place,” this word is a combination of the word-forming element to, which means, “in the direction of,” and gædere, an adjective which comes from the Proto-Germanic root gaduri-, meaning “gather in a body.”  This likely came from the PIE root ghedh– meaning “to unite or join.”  You’ll recognize this root in the word gather, and if you say the word togædere out loud, you can easily see how close it resembles “to – gather.”  

Old English had an additional word, tosamne, which also meant “together.”  Other Germanic languages have similar-sounding words meaning “together,” such as German zusammen; Norwegian and Danish sammen; Icelandic, saman; Swedish, tillsammans, and Dutch, samen

“Alone we can do so little.  Together we can do so much.”

Helen Keller 


From Old French, perseverance, meaning, “persistence, endurance,” from Latin perseverare, meaning “to continue steadfastly,” and is made up of the words per and severus.  Per is a Latin word-forming element meaning “very,” and likely came from PIE per- meaning “forward, in front of, before.”  Severus, means “serious, grave, or strict” and is likely from the PIE root segh- which meant “to have hold of.”  You’ll recognize this root in words like schematic, scholar, ischemia, epoch, and hectic

As an aside, Harry Potter fans may recognize the word severus as the first name of the character Professor Severus Snape, who was portrayed as being very serious, grave and strict, so the name fits.  

“Life is not easy for any of us.  But what of that?  We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves.  We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” 

Marie Curie


From Old English, hælan, from Proto-Germanic, hailjan, meaning literally, “to make whole.”  This word comes from the PIE root kailo– meaning, “of good omen, unharmed, well, whole,” and you’ll recognize it in the word hail, as in “to greet,” and the Old Norse word helge, meaning “holy, or sacred.”  The names Helga and Olga both come from that Old Norse word.  Before advancements in medical science, health was considered a holy gift from the divine.   

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”



From Old French, comunité, from Latin communitatem, and communis, meaning, “common, public, shared.”  This is likely from the PIE roots, ko- and mei-.  Ko- meaning “together,” which you’ll recognize from all words beginning with co-.  Mei- means, “to change, go or move,” which you can see in words like mutate, permeate, transmute, and migrate

Before Old French infiltrated Old English, the word for community was gamænscipe, which contains the word mæne, which you’ll recognize from the Modern English word mean, as in “common.” 

“What should young people do with their lives today?  Many things, obviously.  But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”   

Kurt Vonnegut


From Anglo-French, suvivre, from Old French, souvivre, from Latin supervivere, meaning “to live beyond or longer than.” Supervivere is a combination of the Latin words super, meaning “over or beyond,” and vivere, meaning “to live.”  Super comes to Latin from the PIE root uper, meaning “over,” and makes up words like hyper, over, somersault, summit, superior, and supreme.  Vivere is from the PIE root gwei– meaning “to live,” and can be recognized in words like viable, vital, biology, aerobic, and zoology

“I have a duty to speak the truth as I see it and share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigated pain. It is important to share how I know survival is survival and not just a walk through the rain.”  

Audre Lorde 

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