Thursday, May 12, 2016

Language of Confusion: -Plete

Back to words! Yay!

I’ve always wondered about complete. As it turns out, it showed up in the late fourteenth century from the Old French complet, full, and classical Latin completus, which means…complete. Ah, how I missed words that haven’t changed meaning at all over the centuries. Anyway, completus is the past participle of the verb complere, to complete, generally referring to filling up the number of something (like completing a legion by filling it up with soldiers). It’s a mix of the prefix com-, which is just intensive here, and plere, fill or fulfill. Plere can be traced the Proto Indo European ple-, which might be related to pele-, to fill. Or it might not because even though that makes sense sometimes words are stupid.

Deplete showed up in 1807, yes, an exact year! Well, depletion actually showed up a hundred and fifty years earlier in the mid seventeenth century. It comes from the Late Latin depletionem, which means blood-letting. Really! That word in turn comes from the classical Latin deplere, to empty. The de- part means off or away and plere, fill. So it’s fill away, or take away—deplete. Like when you drain someone’s blood to remove a disease. Boy, am I glad we don’t do that anymore.

Finally today, we’re looking at replete. It showed up in the late fourteenth century like complete did, coming from the Old French replet, filled up and classical Latin repletus, full. So it has pretty much the same history as complete, just with a different prefix. Repletus comes from replere, refill, which makes sense since re- means again. I’m not sure how it got from refilling something to being overfull of something. Especially since it happened somewhere between the Latin tenses of the word. I can kind of see it but still…



  1. Great word research. I must admit I've not heard of 'replete'. I will most definitely think before I use the word deplete from now on, unless I'm writing about vampires :)

  2. I bet that blood depletion involved leeches.

  3. What I want to know is why you wondered about complete at all...

  4. Well, these make sense. I know replete's not a word commonly used anymore.

  5. Interesting. Yeah, I'm glad we don't do blood letting anymore. I'd rather not let leeches touch me.

  6. Well, they do let blood for some diseases. There's one where there's too much iron in the blood or something...

    I have a request for a future etymology post. Staple. And are food staple and metal staples that hold papers together related?

  7. This is interesting about that word ending. Replete looked strange to me the first time I saw it since it wasn't related to refilling.


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