Thursday, December 11, 2014

Language of Confusion: -Sult

This one’s about words that end in -sult. Yay?

Consult first showed up in the early sixteenth century, coming from the Middle French consulter and classical Latin consultare (consultation). It’s the frequentative (basically, the continuous noun version of a word, like wrestling from wrest) of consulere, which is just plain consult). In other words, consult comes from the word that means consultation. The prefix con- means with and the selere is take, which doesn’t seem like it fits. The reason consulere means consult is because of the Latin phrase consulere senatum, which meant “to gather the senate” for counsel. So we have consult because of a metaphor.

Result first showed up as a verb in the early fifteenth century and a noun two centuries later. It comes from the Medieval Latin resultare, to result. In classical Latin, resultare means either reverberate or spring forward—kind of weird change, right? Well, if you think about it figuratively, it kind of makes sense. A reverberation is a result, in a sense. Resultare comes from the words resiliens and resilere, which unsurprisingly are the origin word for resilience. The re- means back and -silire is from salire, jump or leap (and the origin word for salient). To sum up: results leap back at you.

Finally, there’s insult. It showed up as a verb in the mid sixteenth century and a noun in the early seventeenth, and at first it meant attack (as a noun) or triumph over in an arrogant way (as a verb). It comes from the classical Latin insultare, which means jump on, although it was used sometimes in the same way we use it. Insultare comes from the verb insilire, where the prefix in- means on (really) and the salire is leap or jump. The reason it means insult these days is because it went from literally jumping on to verbally doing so. I know, I’m surprised it makes sense, too.

TL;DR: Insult and result come from the word for jump. Consult comes from counsel and has nothing to do with either of the other -sult words because of course it doesn’t.



  1. Very interesting. I've never seen a breakdown of the -sult words before.

  2. The change in result seems like the biggest stretch. (Or jump rather.)

  3. "Consult comes from counsel and has nothing to do with either of the other -sult words because of course it doesn’t."

    Ha, ha, ha ... That's just the English language all over! Have you seen that meme on Facebook or Twitter that says: English doesn't just borrow from other languages. It drags them into a dark alley, beats them up, and steals their wallet.

  4. Jump as a root word for insult. Who'd have known?

  5. I wonder how many word meanings are the result of old metaphors.

  6. "Consult comes from counsel and has nothing to do with either of the other -sult words because of course it doesn’t."

    I love that. I never knew that there was much of a difference between the origin of the -sult words. I never really gave much thought to the backgrounds of the words I use. I love your etymology posts.

  7. Did I have something to say? I don't know.

  8. I've learned something new today, I thought Latin was just Latin, never knew there was a Classical and a Medieval :) Trust me to think of that when the whole post is about 'sult' ! xx

  9. I love seeing the connections with the french language. Cool stuff.


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