Thursday, March 24, 2016

Language of Confusion: Persuaded

Today we’re looking at persuade and its opposite, dissuade. It’s going to be short and sweet.

You’ll realize why that’s hilarious in a minute.

Persuade showed up in the early sixteenth century from the Middle French persuader and classical Latin persuadere, which is just persuade. Persuasion actually showed up earlier, in the late fourteenth century. It comes from the Old French persuasion and classical Latin persuasionem, which means convincing or, well, persuading. Dissuade has a similar history, coming from the Middle French dissuader and classical Latin dissuadere, discourage. Still simple so far, right? Well, just wait.

It’s when you start to break up the words that things get interesting. The prefix per- means strongly or thoroughly while the end of the word comes from suadere, which also means persuade. And dissuade, with the dis- prefix, just means persuade against. Still sensible! But then you look at suadere. It comes from the Proto Indo European swad-, which means…sweet.

Sweet. I’m not kidding here. And where do you think the word sweet comes from? Yep, swad. Sweet is descended from the Old English swete, which is just sweet with the letters switched around. Before that, it’s the Proto Germanic swotja, which in turn comes from swad. Now, the word swad was used for pleasant things in general, not just things that tasted sweet, but it still seems kind of weird that it went from that to persuade. Maybe because you persuade people with sweet words? I guess that might make sense…

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. Dissuade is not usually done sweetly though...

  2. I just look at "literal" and decide that nothing's weird, just dumb.

  3. Possibly connected weirdness: "suavity" does not mean "suaveness," but actually "sweetness."

  4. Oh boy... now I'm puzzled!

    We don't use dissuade that often anymore.

  5. Wait. Suadere in persuade means persuade, but suadere in dissuade means sweet? Huh?

  6. It seems to me it means yes sweet and no sweet. :)

  7. Okay, so that's just weird… The same word means two different things? Oh… right. English….


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