Does an etymological difference make any difference to the perception of a thing?

This is the question I drove home with after Thursday morning’s lesson with Paul. I had introduced a discussion I’d begun with Claire, about the etymology of the word ‘economy’ and its isiZulu translation ‘umnotho’.

‘Economy’ is traditionally derived from the Greek oiko-nomia or house-ordering. Xenophon’s Oikonomia is a set of instructions to a new wife on the best way to order her new household, complete with tips on managing unruly slaves. It has a cognate meaning of ‘thrift’.

‘Umnotho’ is similarly transparent – derived from the verb ‘notha’, meaning ‘be well off, be comfortable, be well-to-do’ as well as ‘be rich, yield plentifully’, and has the general meaning of ‘wealth’ or ‘riches’. It has cognates relating to ‘objects that spring back when prodded’, as well as unotha or ‘Native hemp, cannabis sativa, of the best quality’.

So English uses a word which is not always etymologically clear to users, but which means ‘ordering-one’s-household’, and the amaZulu have a word meaning ‘the-soft-and-springy-richly-yielding-wealthy-stuff’ (which is quite clear to users, etymologically).

Does this fundamental difference in etymology make any difference to the perception of ‘economy’?