Thursday, March 12, 2015

Language of Confusion: Still

I saw the word still somewhere and I was like, “Huh, that’s an interesting word,” so here it is.

Still, like to be still, comes from the Old English stille, motionless, which gave us first being physically still and then the calm, quiet sense of the word. Before that it was the Proto Germanic stilli, which can be traced to the Proto Indo European stel, which means put or stand and is also the origin word for stall.

The only version of the word still that isn’t really related is the still that means like what you make alcohol in. That word actually comes from the Middle English stillen, which means…to distill. Apparently, that word was just a variation of the word distillen, which comes from the Old French distiller and classical Latin distillare, to drip. Distillare is a mix of the prefix dis-, apart, and stillare, to drip or drop down. So while it seems like stillare and distillare have the same meaning, “to drip apart” refers to the process of distilling, where something drips down apart from impurities.

There’s one more word we’re going to look at: instill. It showed up in the early fifteenth century meaning “to introduce little by little”. It comes from the classical Latin instillare, which has pretty much the same definition. The in- of course means in and the stillare is drop, so drop in. Just in very small increments.

TL;DR: Still is Germanic (except for alcohol stills) and means stall, and instill and distill are Latin and mean to drip.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language


  1. So still, as in 'it remains the same' would be from those same Germanic roots?

  2. Drip in, drip out.
    Drip in, drip out.
    I think they missed that one in Karate Kid.

  3. The alternate definition of still isn't used very often, come to think of it.

  4. A word I over use and have to do a search for in my manuscripts.

  5. The alcohol still didn't come from German? Really?

  6. Still is one of those words I use way too often….


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