FROM SECONDARY TO PRIMARY NAMES (421C–422C)
The postulation of primary names (421c–422c)
We now resume our reading of the text from 421c3, at the end of the etymologies of the ‘greatest and finest’ names. Socrates has just derived ὄν and οὐκ ὄν, ‘being’ and ‘not being’, from ἰόν and οὐκ ἰόν, ‘going’ and ‘not going’. Hermogenes is very satisfied, but asks a question which will prove difficult to answer and will set the agenda of the discussion for the next pages:
he. These names you seem to me to have broken up most bravely, Socrates. But if one were to ask you about this ἰόν and ῥέον and δοῦν, what correctness these names have …
so. ‘… What should we answer him?’ This is what you say, isn't it?
Thus Hermogenes asks Socrates about the very word from which ὄν was derived in the last etymology, i.e. ἰόν. His point is clearly that so short a word seems difficult to analyse further. The same holds of the other two examples advanced, ῥέον (‘flowing’) and δοῦν (‘binding’). Both are very short words and both occurred earlier in some etymologies: see 410b, 415d, 419b.
Socrates' first reaction consists in identifying, and then discarding, two possible loopholes:
so. Well, just now, at some point, we procured one way of seeming to answer something sensible.
he. What do you mean?
so. Saying, of whatever we don't understand, that it is some sort of barbarian name. Perhaps some of them might really be of that very kind; it also might be that the first names [τὰ πρῶτα τῶν ὀνομάτων] are impossible to recover because of their antiquity. […]