“Give” is One of the Oldest Words in the English Language

I recently came across an article discussing the oldest English words. The word “give” was near the top of the list – a word I find very fitting as we enter this holiday season of gift giving.

Even more striking is the significance this word has for our society. The English language began around the year 900 (about 1,100 years ago). Obviously language has been around much longer, with some estimates dating back as far as 40,000 years! That’s a lot of time to create a lot of words!

So, with all these words to choose from, why did “give” become one of the first words to be translated into English? Linguists say a language’s first or oldest words are building block words – words that reflect key elements in developing societies. As the author of the article wrote, “Give is one of those building blocks because people learned long ago the importance of working together; of sharing. Cooperation is a building block of human society. When people don’t give – or don’t work together – little gets accomplished.”

For me, the key phrase in that explanation is “cooperation is the building block of human society.” As a building block word, it’s clear that people have long believed giving is an essential part of a society’s success. When we cooperate and lift each other up, especially lifting those who are struggling, we all win.

A flourishing community starts with healthy, secure individuals and families. How different would our county be if every working family earned enough to get ahead financially? What if families could not only meet their basic needs, but also save for emergencies and their family’s future. Thriving families support local businesses and make our community stronger.

The 2016 Wisconsin ALICE Report, commissioned by the United Way, upended the traditional view of what it takes to achieve financial stability. It estimated that in Brown County, 1 in 3 households struggles financially.  An acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, ALICE helps to explain why people who are working can’t get ahead. It might be their limited education prevents them from getting a better-paying job. Or maybe it’s a health condition that limits their options. Perhaps they have a special needs person in their life that they must care for, which limits the hours they can work. Regardless of the reason, they’re struggling financially.

Brown County United Way exists to unite people, ideas and resources to create community solutions that strengthen every person and every community in Brown County. As the leader of the quality of life fight for nearly 100 years in Brown County, we are leading this effort to help ALICE. We do this not just by raising dollars to support local programs that help those in need, but also by identifying solutions and leading efforts that will create transformational change across our community.

If language is any indication of what’s important to a society, it’s clear that “giving” is essential to our society’s success. Not only was it one of the first words translated into English, but it has stood the test of time, lasting more than 1,100 years.

It is the season of giving. Please consider a gift to Brown County United Way. You’ll be giving the gift of stability, and helping ensure everyone in Brown County has the opportunity for a bright future.

You can give directly from our website or mail a check to Brown County United Way, PO Box 1593, Green Bay, WI 54305-1593.

Tom Schoffelman is Vice President of Resource Development and Communication at Brown County United Way. Contact him at tom@BrownCountyUnitedWay.org

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