While searching for a bathroom in a hospital in Liège this morning (I’m OK, I was donating blood, and I’m writing this on Friday afternoon, so I’m not in Cologne yet), I began to become slightly concerned, as one was hard to find, and I really needed to go. I began to think I’d have to ask someone for directions, and as I do when I know in advance what I’ll need to say in a certain situation, I quickly went through what I’d say in French:
Excusez-moi, est-ce-qu’il y a une toilette presque…
No, not presque, that means almost. Près is the word I needed. Près d’ici.
But then I got distracted, and began thinking about that word almost.
Almost. That’s all and most together, isn’t it? It seemed obvious, but I’d never thought about it before. How can that make sense in the way we use it then, let me think…
Ah, of course, it’s not all, but it’s most of all, or mostly all. If you’re almost there, you haven’t gone all the way there, but you’ve gone most of all the way there. Almost. That all made sense to me.
Still, I checked later to see if my hunch was right, and the word is indeed derived from the Old English eallmæst, meaning mostly all. It’s always nice to have a hunch confirmed.
This of course also made me think about nearly, which is also fairly logical. You haven’t acheived what you want, but you’re near it, just as we’re near something in physical space. Once more, this is an example of how we view language as we experience the world: in spacial terms. After all, language is just an expression of how we perceive the world, so it makes sense that so much of the language we used is based on distance and space.
Oh, and I’ll end the suspense you’ve doubtless been suffering through since the first paragraph. I eventually managed to find a bathroom unaided, and though it wasn’t the most pristine example I’ve ever enjoyed, it got the job done.