So I’ve been reading a book by James G. Cowan called The Elements of the Aborigine Tradition, and I’ve been putting up with balderdash like “This suggests that science has no way of answering problems posed by the spirit, however much it might claim to have identified the structure of DNA and the principles of life in the laboratory. The Rainbow Snake as an expression of world creation resolves that problem…” because he has a lot of interesting things to say about Aboriginal culture, but this, this is too much:
The etymology of the word ‘rite’ more properly suggests the origin of Aboriginal ceremony than does its obvious association with religious ritual. This, of course, is never far away, as most ceremonies are in one way or another religious. But the earlier etymological meaning, deriving from the Latin word recte meaning ‘in a straight line, perpendicularity [sic], uprightly’ goes nearer to the heart of what Aboriginal ritual means to them.
The etymological fallacy—using a word’s etymology as a guide to its current meaning—is bad enough, but at least it can get people to learn etymologies. This alleged etymology is just plain wrong. The word rite is from Latin ritus ‘ceremony,’ which has nothing to do with rectus ‘straight.’ Don’t publishers fact-check any more? (That’s a rhetorical question; I know they don’t.)