In running order

Cristian Ispir
2 min readDec 6, 2023

A car, a foreign currency, a school curriculum and a professional career walk into a bar. That’s it.

If you didn’t get this ultimate geek joke it means you are not getting out of etymology all that you could.

One of the features of modern culture is that it takes a lot for granted. It takes history for granted. It takes achievement for granted. It takes language for granted.

The way the modern world is set up, at scale and at speed, makes us very unlikely to question where things come from. Most of the time, we don’t think about it. Beyond facile soundbites and meme-convertable facts and figures, we are generally fairly indifferent to how things came to be the way they are.

We are always on the run. Always running away from, rather towards.

Now back to my etymological dad joke.

We use the four c-words so casually and so readily today that we never pause to think what the roots of them are. Because we keep running.

The ancients who bequeathed us these words also ran. And the words keep running.

In fact, running seems to be one of the most basic foundational actions of the cultures from which ours emerged.

In Proto-Indo-European, the lost foundational language of over 400 European, Central Asian and Indic modern languages, from English to Hindi and from Russian to Farsi, the root kers meaning ‘to run’ is one of the most prolific, having given birth to thousands of words in dozens of modern languages.

Car, currency, curriculum, career, course, charge, cargo, current, even cursor, all come from the original kers via the Latin verb currere, to run.

This is more than etymological thinking. It is an existential mode. Language runs. The extinct Indo-Europeans also ran. They ran across the Eurasian steppes, carrying their words from one end of the landmass to another.

And when they stopped running, they walked silently into a bar and had a drink.