Indo-European Language and Society

Chapter 17. Gratuitousness and Gratefulness


Lat. gratia is a term, originally having religious value, which was applied to a mode of economic behavior: what designated “grace” and an “action of grace” came to express the notion of “gratuitousness” (gratis).


The terms relating to the various aspects of payment lead on to consideration of the opposite notion, namely that of “gratuitousness.” This is an economic as well as a moral notion which is attached on the one hand to monetary value, and on the other to the complex idea of “grace.”
We must first consider the Latin term gratia. The facts are abundant and have a fairly clear distribution. Gratia is derived from the adjective gratus. This is ambivalent; it is applied to both the parties concerned: “he who receives one with favor, who shows pleasure” and “he who is received with favor, who is agreeable.” These are complementary senses, one or other of which comes to the fore according to the construction in which the word occurs.
The same is true of the opposite ingratus ‘who shows no gratefulness’ or “who does not attract gratefulness.” We may add a noun of an archaic type grates (agere, solvere, habere), occurring only in the plural “marks of gratitude”; finally, there is the verb grator together with gratulor, a verb derived from a non-attested noun form; an abstract noun gratia; and the adjective gratuitus. It is not merely the history of these forms within the vocabulary of Latin itself which prepared the way for the religious sense of “grace.” Another factor intervened: the Greek term kháris (χάρις) determined the evolution of the Latin term.
Gratus is an adjective which has correspondents in Italic: Oscan brateisgratiae’, genitive singular of a noun in –i. This links up with a lexical family which is nowhere clearly attested except in Indo-Iranian, and here it refers to a quite different semantic field: Skt. gir ‘chant, hymn of praise’, with the present tense gr̥ṇati ‘to praise’, the object being a divinity. The adjective gūrta ‘praised, welcome’ is often found with a reinforcing prefix: arigūrta, which corresponds to the old Homeric compounds in ari– (ἀρι-) and eri– (ἐρι-). It is the same form as we have in Avestan: gar-, nominal or verbal, “eulogy, praise.”
We can recognize in the etymological relationship the point of departure for a religious development in Indo-Iranian which led to the sense of “hymn, eulogy”; it probably was a hymn of “grace” to “give thanks (to a god).”
The connection with Latin words shows that the process at the beginning consisted of giving service for nothing, without reward; and this service, which was literally “gratuitous,” provokes in return the manifestation of what we call “gratefulness.” The notion of service that does not demand a counter-service is at the root of the notion, which for us moderns is twofold, “favor” and “gratefulness,” a sentiment which is felt by the one who gives and by the one who receives. They are reciprocal notions: the act conditions the sentiment; the sentiment inspires a certain form of behavior. This is what produced in Indo-Iranian the sense of “(words of) gratefulness, thanks, eulogy.”
In Germanic there is a curious parallel. The Gothic expression for gratefulness is awiliuþ and the verb is awiliudon ‘to be grateful, feel gratitude’, ‘to thank’, which are manifestly ancient and authentic compounds which owe nothing in sense or form to the Greek words which they translate: kharízomai, eukharisteîn, khârin ékhein, etc.
Gothic awi signifies some kind of “favor” and seems to correspond well with auja ‘favor, chance’ of the ancient Runic inscriptions. This root is well known in Indo-Iranian from the Skt. avis ‘favorable’, and the verb ū, avati ‘he is favorable, well disposed, disposed to help’, ūti ‘help’. In Iranian, the same root is closely linked with the preverb adi and yields the verb adyav– ‘to bring aid, to succor’, which has a very long history: the agent noun adyāvar ‘helper’ survives to the present day in the guise of Persian jar ‘friend’.
As for Gothic liuþ, this is the name for a “song,” of a “hymn,” which is also seen in the German Lied. In the vocabulary of Germanic Christianity leuđ translates psalmus. The Gothic compound thus signifies “song of favor,” “hymn of grace.” It is with awiliuþ that Gothic signifies Gr. kháris ‘grace’ and eukharisteîn ‘to show one’s gratefulness’. The same relationship is found between grātus and Skt. gir; the “thankfulness” is expressed by a “chant” that serves to make it manifest.
We shall now consider in their own right the Greek terms, which directly or indirectly dominate all these developments in Latin and Germanic. The large family of the words kháris and its relations is divided into a certain number of terms of very different signification: kharízomai, eukharisteîn, etc., but also khará̄ ‘joy’, khaírō ‘to rejoice’.
The cognates are securely established: the Greek root khar– has long been compared to Skt. har(ya)- ‘to have pleasure’, in Italic her– (hor-): Osco-Umbrian her– ‘to wish, be willing’, Latin causative horior, hortor ‘cause to wish, urge, encourage’, as well as to Germanic *ger-: Gothic –gairns ‘who wishes to’ (German gern), gairnei ‘desire’ and the present tense gairnjan ‘to have a desire, to desire strongly’.
The Greek kháris expresses the notion of pleasure, what is agreeable (also in a physical sense) and of “favor”; cf. in the proper sense the Greek adverbial expression khárin with the genitive, “for the pleasure of,” and Latin gratiā (ablative) with a parallel development, perhaps under the influence of Greek.
Lat. gratiosus can mean “who feels gratitude” and “held in favor, popular” and also “what shows favor, gracious.” With the same specialization, gratiis contracted to gratis, which French has borrowed from Latin, means “without paying”: gratis habitare ‘to live for nothing, without paying rent’. In this way there appears in the use of gratia a new sense, that of a service provided or obtained “by grace and favor, to give pleasure.”
The gratia consists in saving expenditure. We have a witness to this development in the adjective gratuitus ‘disinterested, gratuitous,” the formation of which is parallel to that of fortuitus and presupposed a noun *gratu– of the same type as fortu– (cf. fortuna). In a money-based civilization “grace” shown to a person is to “show grace” to him by suspending his obligation to pay for the service received. This is how a term of sentiment came to be used in an economic sense, without altogether severing itself from the religious context in which it arose.
It would be a serious error to believe that economic notions originate in needs of a material order which have to be satisfied, and that the terms which express these notions have merely a material sense. Everything relating to economic notions is bound up with a far wider range of ideas that concern the whole field of relationships between men and the relations of men with the gods. These are complex and difficult relations in which both parties are always implicated.
Yet the reciprocal process of supply and payment can be interrupted voluntarily: thus we have services without return, offerings “by grace and favor,” pure acts of “grace,” which are the starting points of a new kind of reciprocity. Above the normal circuit of exchange— where one gives in order to obtain—there is a second circuit, that of benefice and gratefulness, of what is given without thought of return, of what is offered in “thankfulness.”