The world is teeming with people we refer to as “influencers”. Marketeers and advertisers will befriend influencers when launching a new product or a campaign in order to gain access to their entourage. We try to gain their favor in order to reach out to those who look up to them.
The word ‘influence’ comes from an Old French astrological term meaning “emanation from the stars that acts upon one’s character and destiny”. It’s no coincidence that ‘influence’, originally exerted by the stars, is nowadays exerted by ‘stars’ of a different kind.
‘Influenza’ comes from Medieval Latin influentia, meaning “a flowing in”, which also refers to the stars, since influenza was believed to have occult or astral influence.
It’s the similarity between influencer-the-star and influenza-the-disease that strikes me as interesting — the concept of influence as an epidemic, in the etymological as well as metaphorical sense.
Are we influenced out of conviction or out of contagion? Do influencers convince us, or do we only want so desperately to be like these stars that we succumb to (and fall ill with) their opinions? The mechanics of ‘influence’ are worth a deeper study, perhaps elsewhere.