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What more could you ask for? It was a simple answer to a simple question. That’s the beauty of life, but all of us who post on the forum knew that such a paradise would soon be trodden by a linguistic- terrorist. “It’s not understanding! You have to use overstanding my brother!”
Understanding versus Overstanding? That is the question. Ironically, the word overstanding has a much older history than many are aware of, as it is closely connected to the word superstition. Popularly, the term overstanding is defined as we see in this Wiktionary article:
“From Middle English overstonden, from Old English oferstandan (“to stand over”), equivalent to over- + stand. Cognate with Dutch overstaan (“to stand over”), Germanüberstehen (“to stand through, survive”).
The slang meaning was coined in Rastafarianism, as an inversion of understand (before 1965).”
As seen in the definition cited above, overstanding has gained popular use in recent times. It is used as an inversion of the term understand. An online resource, known as the Urban Dictionary, in its definition of the term overstanding, states:
“Overstanding emerged as a word from the global hip hop culture, to help portray an ethic of entrepeneurialism , self sufficiency, and sustainability.”
While the word overstanding may appear to be a good logical conclusion to the “understanding” dilemma, there is one origin of the term overstanding that is not commonly discussed.
The word overstanding is connected to the term superstition. Concerning the etymology of the term superstition, Wikipedia states:
“While the formation of the Latin word is clear, from the verb super-stare, “to stand over, stand upon; survive”, its original intended sense is less than clear.
It can be interpreted as “‘standing over a thing in amazement or awe”, but other possibilities have been suggested, e.g. the sense of excess, i.e. over scrupulousness or over-ceremoniousness in the performing of religious rites, or else the survival of old, irrational religious habits.“
Interestingly, we find the exact phrase used in the Wiktionary article regarding the term overstanding and the etymology of the term superstitious as explained by Wikipedia.
Wiktionary’s definition of the term overstanding: “From Middle English overstonden, from Old English oferstandan (“to stand over”), equivalent to over- + stand. Cognate with Dutch overstaan (“to stand over”), Germanüberstehen (“to stand through, survive”).”
Wikipedia’s etymological origin of the term superstitious: “from the verb super-stare, “to stand over, stand upon; survive.”
Similarly, the Oxford Dictionary provides the same etymological description of the term. However, is also adds that the word superstition derives from “standing over something in awe.”
Standing over in awe, or overstanding, and its connection with the term superstitious, begins with understanding the impression that was left on those who witnessed indigenous rituals and took note of the shaman’s staring into the other world as he/she stood over their altars. It is a very beautiful sight to behold.
Now let us take a look at the etymology of the term understanding. The Online Etymology Dictionary describes the origin of the word understanding as follows:
“Old English understandan “comprehend, grasp the idea of,” probably literally “stand in the midst of,” from under + standan “to stand” (see stand (v.)). If this is the meaning, theunder is not the usual word meaning “beneath,” but from Old English under, from PIE *nter- “between, among” (cognates: Sanskrit antar “among, between,” Latin inter “between, among,” Greek entera “intestines;” see inter-). Related: Understood; understanding.
That is the suggestion in Barnhart, but other sources regard the “among, between, before, in the presence of” sense of Old English prefix and preposition under as other meanings of the same word. “Among” seems to be the sense in many Old English compounds that resemble understand, such as underniman “to receive,” undersecan “examine, investigate, scrutinize” (literally “underseek”), underðencan “consider, change one’s mind,” underginnan “to begin.” It also seems to be the sense still in expressions such as under such circumstances.
Perhaps the ultimate sense is “be close to;” compare Greek epistamai “I know how, I know,” literally “I stand upon.” Similar formations are found in Old Frisian (understonda), Middle Danish (understande), while other Germanic languages use compounds meaning “stand before” (German verstehen, represented in Old English by forstanden“understand,” also “oppose, withstand”). For this concept, most Indo-European languages use figurative extensions of compounds that literally mean “put together,” or “separate,” or “take, grasp” (see comprehend). Old English oferstandan, Middle English overstonden, literally “over-stand” seem to have been used only in literal senses. For “to stand under” in a physical sense, Old English had undergestandan.”
Understanding versus Overstanding? That is the answer!