On Saturday I was at the Christian Ecology Link‘s 30th anniversary conference, and Johnathan Porritt mentioned the ancient origins of the word ‘wealth’. Originally, he suggested, it had a much broader meaning than financial wealth, and it has narrowed over time.
That made me curious, and I looked it up. ‘Wealth’ comes from the old English ‘weal’, which means ‘wealth, welfare, and wellbeing’. Weal is in turn related to the older word ‘wel’, meaning ‘in a state of good fortune, welfare, or happiness’.
‘Wel’ gives birth to ‘welth’ around 1250 AD, and ‘welthi’ a century or so later. By 1430 it seems to have settled around the idea of riches and prosperity, leaving behind the older meanings of wider wellbeing and health.
We’ve got almost 600 years of language to contend with, but wouldn’t it be useful if we could reclaim the full meaning of the word?