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10 Historical Words That Don't Mean What You Think


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Epicurean
Epicurus was influenced by the philosophy of hedonism. © Alfredo Dagli Orti/The Art Archive/Corbis
Epicurus was influenced by the philosophy of hedonism. © Alfredo Dagli Orti/The Art Archive/Corbis

Foodies often refer to themselves as epicures, which mean those with discerning palates who enjoy fine food and drink. The word "epicure" was derived from the name of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-271 B.C.E.), who, people presume, must have been quite the foodie himself [source: Sedley]. But while Epicurus is considered one of the world's most significant hedonistic thinkers, today's use of the words "epicure" and "epicurean" are quite misleading.

The ancient hedonists, as you just read, believed things are good because they're pleasant, or bad because they're painful. Epicurus was considered an egoistic hedonist — that is, someone who believes what is good for you is whatever you, yourself, enjoys. Not what your mother enjoys, or your best friend, or the smartest person in you class. Life — while it should be based on moral virtue — is really only worthwhile if everyone enjoys their life in their own way. Egoistic hedonists, interestingly, also believed in moderating all desires, whether for food, drink, sexual pleasure or even politics. If a person indulges in a particular pleasure too freely, the thinking goes, he runs the risk of becoming a slave to that pleasure [source: Sedley]. So ironically, today's epicures are not at all people Epicurus himself would have admired.


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