The descent of words: Evolutionary thinking 1780-1880

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Histories of evolutionary thought are dominated by organic evolution. The colossus in our midst that is evolutionary biology casts its shadow over history, making it appear that what is so widespread and important today was always the primary subject of evolutionary speculation. Thus many histories assume that the core meaning of evolution is the change of organic life and that other forms of evolutionary thinking, such as linguistic, social or cultural evolution, are only analogies or offshoots of the main biological evolutionary trunk. Ironically this is an ahistorical understanding. Long before the work of Charles Darwin, scholars were independently developing evolutionary concepts such as descent with modification and divergence from a common stock in order to understand cultural change. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.




Van Wyhe, J. (2005). The descent of words: Evolutionary thinking 1780-1880. Endeavour, 29(3), 94–100.

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