Wednesday, March 2, 2011


“Ception” is another one of those not-words that is part of many words without being one. As anyone who has looked at movie listings in the past year will tell you, it is part of inception, but it is also part of reception, perception, conception and deception. Interesting that those last three words all relate to –ceive (receive, perceive, and deceive) but there is no “inceive.” Instead, there is incept, which means to take in or digest (yeah, I had to look that one up). What brought about this language evolution?

Inception is in fact the last one to form, and it’s worth noting that the –ceive words showed up first in the fourteenth century, while the –ception evolutions showed up in the fifteenth (check the Etymology Online links in the individual words for the sources).

Perceive, conceive, receive and deceive are all of Old French extraction (perçoivre, recoivre and decevoir) and like most of the Old French language, it can be traced to classical Latin—percipere, concipere, recipere, and decipere.

Cipere, the root word, is from the classical Latin capare—to take (interesting side note: it is also the root word for capable). Obviously, this is a case of the prefixes bringing the true definition to the word.

The per- prefix comes from the preposition "per" and means through, thoroughly, by means of, during—well, there are quite a few of them. Looking at percipere’s definition of obtain, gather, one can see it becomes “to thoroughly take” or perhaps “fully take.” While take itself is an easy word (you’ve either taken something or you haven’t), per- reiterates the taking. That’s probably why percipere also means the metaphorical “to grasp with the mind.” If you’ve completely taken something in, you’ve perceived it…at least that’s so in modern English. In modern French, the literal “fully take/collect” meaning is also used with the word.

Likewise, con- has been added to cipere. If you remember last week’s lesson on the con/com prefix, you’ll know that it means “together.” So, it would be “taken together.” Historically, conception was used to mean pregnancy (which requires two people—together), but there has always been a metaphorical meaning of create along with it. One could say an idea is a conception between thoughts.  

Next, if we look at receive, we see that the re- prefix means “back to the original” or “again.” Combined with take, recipere would mean “to take back” or “retake.” I haven’t found a reason for the change from retake to collect. I can only postulate that it evolved over the years from retake to accept because re- is also often simply an intensive, like saying “I really took it.”

De- has different meanings. It can show the “undoing” of a verb, like how we currently use it in deemphasize, or it can mean “from or away” (defend—away from strikes), or “down, completely” as in debate(completely beat—seriously). In deceive, the de- is as in defend, removing from the verb. Literally, it is “from taking,” but perhaps it evolved to mean “keep from taking” and from there, mislead.

As for the –ception words for the above, they evolved in the late fourteenth/early fifteenth centuries as nouns for the verbs. In Latin, the root word they stem from is –ceptionem, which is a from –ceptio, a nominative (basically a way of changing a word depending on what sense it is used in, like when to use I and when to use me; nominatives are rarely used in English but common in Latin).

But we have one more word to look at! Inception showed up in the late fifteenth century, around the same time as the other –ception words but without a –cieve word to compliment it. It is from the classical Latin inceptionem, from incipere (now that should be familiar). In- is another prefix with many meanings. It can mean “without” (like inactive) or upon, into (invoke—into voice). In incipere, it is in the second sense, so it is “taking in” or “in take.” Linguistically, I would say begin and in take aren’t that far of. When you begin something (or incept it), you must mentally take it in, conceive of it. But I can’t say for sure.

Yeah, this was a lot longer than the three hundred word limit I wanted to enforce. But while the rules aren’t meant to be broken, these ones are mine to interpret. So : P.

The dictionary.’s section on the French Language.

And for helping me to figure out just what nominative means. Oh, and incept.


  1. Very cool! I do love these posts. I'm sure I asked before, but is your degree in linguistics? (I mean nothing negative at all if you are degree-free, of course; I'm just curious!)

  2. I have a degree, but not in linguistics. It's just my crazy hobby.

  3. Interesting! I don't know hardly anything about linguistics... Very fun post. I'm going to have to stop back here more often! Thanks for stopping by my blog today! :)

  4. I love the study of linguistics. Not that I've done it, but I took 2 years of Latin in high school and found out all kinds of interesting stuff about where our words originate.

  5. new rules need be broken sooner rather than later. good post.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Always interesting to discover the history behind words ~ :) New follower and fellow crusader just (finally) making the rounds. Happy Thursday!

  8. Fellow Crusader, now follower, just popping over to say hello.

  9. Etymology is fascinating. Language is always changing. When I read blogs that use TM terminology, or gamer punctuation, I have to remember that another generation of writers are on the way. Susan

  10. Crazy, I just watched some tv series and wondered about the word deception and how is it connected with inception (english is not my primary language), and I found them unrelated in meaning. But there was this "ception", that I didn't know what would it mean, so I looked up a dictionary and it said nothing. I was like wtf. Since I know a little latin I was sure that it just had to have some roots there, I decided to google it up and came to this wonderful post about this funny little meaningless (/meaningful) word, or not-word, like you said. Now I'm trully fascinated by the "secrets" of english language!


Please validate me.