172 § Poetry, Language, Thought

The thing things. Thinging gathers. Appropriating the fourfold, it gathers the fourfold's stay, its while, into something that stays for a while: into this thing, that thing.

The jug's essential nature, its presencing, so experienced and thought of in these terms, is what we call thing. We are now thinking this word by way of the gathering-appropriating staying of the fourfold. At the same time we recall the Old High German word thing. This reference to the history of language could easily tempt us to misunderstand the way in which we are now thinking of the nature of the thing. It might look as though the nature of the thing as we are now thinking of it had been, so to speak, thoughtlessly poked out of the accidentally encountered meaning of the Old High German thing. The suspicion arises that the understanding of the nature of the thingness that we are here trying to reach may be based on the accidents of an etymological game. The notion becomes established and is already current that, instead of giving thought to essential matters, we are here merely using the dictionary.

The opposite is true. To be sure, the Old High German word thing means a gathering, and specifically a gathering to deliberate on a matter under discussion, a contested matter. In consequence, the Old German words thing and dine become the names for an affair or matter of pertinence. They denote anything that in any way bears upon men, concerns them, and that accordingly is a matter for discourse. The Romans called a matter for discourse res. The Greek εἴρω (ῥητός, ῥήτρα, ῥῆμα) means to speak about something, to deliberate on it. Res publica means, not the state, but that which, known to everyone, concerns everybody and is therefore deliberated in public.

Only because res means what concerns men are the combinations res adversae, res secundae possible. The first is what affects or bears on man adversely, the second what attends man favorably. The dictionaries, to be sure, translate res adversae correctly as bad fortune, res secundae as good fortune; but dictionaries have little to report about what words, spoken thoughtfully, say. The truth, then, here and elsewhere, is not that our thinking feeds on etymology, but rather that etymology has the standing mandate first to give thought to the essential content involved in what dictionary words, as words, denote by implication.