Generous is an adjective frequently adopted by poets; generosity is a virtue greatly valued by nobilities; generous generosity is a depiction historically inherited by generations. I am always wondering that how does ‘generosity’ develop its personal charisma to attract so much attention? Is it possible to decode its mystery by tracing the origin of ‘generous’?
Browsing through books, I discovered that some clues keep emerging. From a historic perspective, tracing word’s development back in time shows that in many cases what are now separate lexical items were formerly identical words.
The deep prehistory of language has nurtured little word-seeds that over the millennia have proliferated into widely differentiated families of vocabulary. ‘Generous’ is a word of no exception.
Originally, it was a derivative of genus in the sense “birth, stock, race,” and harks back semantically to its ultimate source in the Indo-European base ‘gen’ denoting ‘produce’. Its Germanic offshoots include kin, kind, and probably king, but for sheer numbers it is the Latin descendant genus “race, type”. It probably entered the language in the 16th century coming via Old French genereux from Latin generosus, which originally meant “of noble birth” (a sense which survived in English into the late 17th century – Richard Knolles, for instance, in his General history of the Turks 1603, wrote of “many knights of generous extraction’).
Years of evolution witness the moderate changes in the meaning of “generous”, and its semantic progression from ‘nobly born’ through ‘noble-minded, magnanimous’ to ‘liberal in giving’ impresses me while reading classics. In the field of literature, ‘generous’ enjoys a great rate of exposure. Let alone other authors, solely William Shakespeare used it for at least dozen times. Its first appearance was in Love’s Labour’s Lost, a work of Shakespeare’s early comedy.
For instance, in scene one the fifth Act，a humorous dialogue conducted between the egg-headed Holofernes and Armado: Armado: Sir, it is the King’s most sweet pleasure and affection to congratulate the Princess at her pavilion, in the posteriors of this day; which the rude multitude call the afternoon. Holofernes: The posterior of the day, most generous sir, is liable, congruent, and measurable, for the afternoon. The word is well cull’d, chose, sweet, and apt, I do assure you, sir, I do assure. Under this
circumstance, generous is an expression of nobility. As for a noble man, soul of innate generosity, every task is gracious and magnificent as well as every utterance.
However, when this word was spoken by the bookish Hologernes, it sounded like a cheap flattery rather than a sincere approbation. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, generous was endowed with a new meaning, namely, kind giving. In scene two the fifth Act, Holofernes shouted that “This is not generous, not gentle, not humble” when he was roughly treated by courtiers. The above context reflects that generous stresses warm hearted readiness to give and demonstrates kindness to others in want of helps. Through Shakespeare’s interpretation, a generous sir can be defined as a well born person characterized by a noble spirit; generosity means the quality of being liberal and magnanimous.
In addition, according to Alexander Pope 1, many people are capable of doing a wise thing, more a cunning thing, but very few a generous thing. What Pope intended to convey was that doing generous things demands lofty characters and unconditional dedication. Hovering in my mind, generous incorporates kind, wise and noble. Sometimes, the generous giving of ourselves can produce the generous harvest. Sometimes, barely detectable as it is, generosity can change someone else’s life forever. Generous generosity is the most enchanting expression in English language, and the greatest wisdom cherished by civilized society, which urges people to do the generous deed, and to carry on the virtue of generosity.