Thursday, October 20, 2011


Today’s etymology lesson is a quick rundown on the history of some prefixes. I did a few of them before and since they always seem to show up, it’s worth knowing about them.

Okay, I think it’s worth knowing about them. Here are some more for your learning pleasure:

Ex- Usually outside of or from, like in excite, where the -cite means to call forth and the ex- indicates that it calls out, like one would rouse an emotion. Ex- can also mean former (as in ex-wife), away (export), upwards (extol), and completely (exaggerate). From the Latin ex, out of or from within. Can be traced even further back to the Proto Indo European eghs, which of course means out.

Dis- Can also be di- (note: different from di- as in twice) and dif- before f. Can mean not—a computer program that is disabled is not functioning. Can mean opposite of—for instance, discharge. Can mean apart or away—when you dislocate your arm, it is away from its proper location. In classical Latin (the Latin of scholars), dis- was the same as de-. This passed on to French as des-. Most English words turned it back to dis- but there are still a few des- words, like descant. Yes, it’s a word!

De- This one is a bit confusing because of the above note. De- is like some of the uses for dis-, but it’s more “separation of space”. In Latin, it was an “undo” prefix, like we use in defrost. It can also be like off, as in decapitate. Or an intensive, as in declare (–clare means clear, so it’s definitely clear) . De- can also mean from, like decline (the –cline means lean) is like from an angle. It can be used as “completely”, as in define, where –fine means limit (finite) so by defining it, you are completely limiting what it is. But that’s a philosophical discussion for another day.


  1. Language may seem illogical, but it is nice to know things aren't just random creations of some deranged linguist.

  2. One can never have enough posts like this! We are all lovers of words, are we not? :0) christy

  3. Thanks for posting!

    As Susan says... language may seem illogical.


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