Thursday, February 12, 2015

Language of Confusion: -Pressed

Have I seriously not done -press before? Because I swear that I have. But it’s not on my newly revamped Etymology list, nor any other list I have of the words I etymologize. I guess it’s just déjà vu or something. Oh, and there are a lot of words here, so I think this is going to be a two-parter.

The earliest form of press showed up as presse in the early fourteenth century, first as a noun, then as a verb. Of course, back then it had nothing to do with the media (can you imagine?); the noun was just a crowd of people massing together. It comes from the Old French presse, which could either mean a crowd or a wine or cheese press, a definition for press that didn’t appear in English until the end of the fourteenth century. Further back, it comes from the classical Latin pressare, which means squeeze, and comes from pressus, the past tense of premere, to press. And the reason the media is called the press is because press is another word for crowd, and that’s, in a sense, public. Oh, and just so you know, the other press verb, like to press into service, is not related to the others. In the mid fourteenth century, it was prest, engage by loan or pay in advance (especially to an enlisted soldier). The Latin word it comes from is praestare, stand before, fulfill or perform. It’s a combination of two words, prae, before, and stare, stand. Because prest sounded so much like press, people dropped the T and two words became one.

Impress first showed up in the late fourteenth century with the figurative meaning of having a strong effect on the mind/heart. It comes from the classical Latin impressus, the past participle of imprimere, press upon. That seems weird, obviously, but the past participle of imprimere, which is where the adjective impress comes from, is impressus, so apparently the m is optional ;). Anyway, it’s the combination of two words, in-, which means into, and premere, which you might recognize from press.

Express first showed up in the late fourteenth century as a noun (like expressing a feeling) and an adjective (“express purpose” etc.)—the association with sending something by express came later of course, and from the adjective form. Anyway, the verb comes from the Old French espresser/expresser, press or speak one’s mind. It came by way of the Medieval Latin expressare, which is a frequentative (continuous noun, like wrestling from wrest) of the classical Latin exprimere, which pretty much just means express. The prefix ex- means out, so this word is…pressing out, I guess?

Oh, this should be fun. Depress showed up in the early fourteenth century meaning put down by force (describes depression pretty well). It comes from the Old French depresser, Late Latin depressare, and of course the classical Latin deprimere, press down or dishearten. The de- means down and the premere is press, so press down, first physically, then mentally.

Stay tuned next week for the thrilling conclusion!



  1. Did depression come from depress?
    And I wonder if press for the media came from the fact they used printing presses for newspapers?

  2. Very interesting. English language must be so difficult to learn.

  3. Depress's core meaning is very apt indeed when one thinks of depression.

  4. I'm not impressed. :P

    We were having a word origin/relation discussion the other night, and I totally thought of you.

  5. Such a pressing subject. You covered this crowded word well. :)

  6. Press noun and press verb come from different words... Just mulling that one over...

  7. Interesting how press came to mean so many different things by itself and with affixes.

  8. I always thought "the press" meaning media came from the printing press on which newspapers were printed. Guess I was wrong about that!

  9. Love these posts! How weird that the noun and the verb come from different roots! English is strange.


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