Rick Santorum, Etymologist

Words are not Rick Santorum’s friends. The Republican presidential candidate has the distinction of having had his own name turned against him. He pleaded — to no avail – with Google to cleanse the Internet of the “filth” associated with santorum.

Now Mr. Santorum has turned to etymology. In the most recent Republican debate, he argued that the real trouble with the economy is the breakdown of the American family. For advancing this view, he was predictably pilloried by the left and praised by the right. Both sides, however, seem to have given him a pass on one argument he advanced.

“The word ‘home’ in Greek is the basis of the word ‘economy.’ It is the foundation of our country,” Santorum said. “You can’t have limited government, you can’t have a limited government, if the family breaks down.

Technically, Santorum is correct: we derive our English word “economy” from oikos (household) and nomos (law); economy involves the ordering or dispensation of the household.

But the ancient Greek household – with its patriarchal order, its separate and unequal quarters and roles for men and women, and its slaves, who did the household chores and, on larger estates, worked the fields– is not the happy suburban home Santorum would like to associate himself with in his campaign for the presidency.

Who knows? Maybe there is a patriarchal, pro-slavery, plantation-owning constituency out there, waiting for someone to take a stand on its behalf.

So maybe all is not lost. Santorum can probably find fodder for his family-values argument in the observation that Greek lawmakers took an interest in promoting marriage, the main object of which was perpetuation of the oikos through child-bearing and child-rearing. That regressive view of the household and of women’s place in the world might not win him the women’s vote; but he wasn’t going to win that anyway.

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