Environment is defined first and foremost as an area surrounding an area or thing, or the physical conditions in which an organism exists. First used in English between 1595-1603, but seen as early as the 1200’s in Anglo-Norman, as avironnement, and then in Middle French (environnement), in 1487. The word from which it is derived, is however much older. Environ, meaning the state of being encompassed or surrounded, is first used in the first half of the 12th century, and stems from further established derivatives such as proximity, surroundings, and periphery. Environment has in more recent years been defined within the context of ecology, computers, and even art.
The interrogation of the word environment does not end there. By analyzing the word in reverse, one may presume that the end “ment” may have significance as well. Although the word clearly roots from the word environ, we can deduce that “ment” may not just be a suffix, but rather hold other implications in the evolution and interpretation of the word. That being said, “ment” is associated with the word mental, which is rooted in the Latin word “mens”. From this we find that mens, meaning mind, is in fact a Proto Indo European word that can be traced back to its roots in men, and later to think. That same word men, is also responsible for the creation of such words as mind, memory, and mathematics. Mathematics rooted in the Greek “manthanein”, meaning to learn.
One may choose to comprehend this deconstruction of the word and its meanings as an underlying lesson in human philosophy, and the nature in which we understand and interpret our environments. Alluding to the notion that our environments exist, as the human mind does to think, in order to teach us, stimulate us, and provide for us as the organisms that reside within it. Or one may simply choose to recognize the “ment” as merely a customary English suffix. That choice is ours, but it is one that may play a fundamental role in the manner with which we understand and pertain to the given environments we find ourselves in.
On a less abstract and philosophical level, the word environment is generally used to describe an environment from an ecological standpoint. Environment then refers to the soils, minerals, waters, organisms, and external factors that relate to a geographical area. When used in terms of computing, environment then indicates the software and hardware configurations, and even the modes of operation within that system. Artists have even been found to use the term environment when describing a manufactured space. This would be the case in an environment such as a city or and landscape that has been manipulated and/or manufactured by humans. These spaces can then be considered as environments unto themselves, detached, yet not separate from their geographical areas.
1) Oxford English Dictionary, “environment”, accessed Nov 2 2012, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/63089?redirectedFrom=environment#eid
2) Dictionary.com, “environment”, accessed Nov 21st 2012, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/environment
3) Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed Nov 21st 2012, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=environment
4) The Word Detective, “Environment”, accessed October 28th 2012, http://www.word-detective.com/2009/03/environment/