Thursday, June 1, 2017

Language of Confusion: -Cuse

Excuse, accuse, recuse. While not the biggest suffix I’ve ever come across, I’d still like to know where they come from. You know, for funsies.

Excuse showed up in the mid thirteenth century as a verb and then a century later as a noun, both with basically the same meaning we know it as. They come from the Old French escuser, apologize, pardon, or exonerate. As usual, they come from the classical Latin excusare, to excuse. Nothing shocking here. But it’s put together from the prefix ex-, out, and causa, which looks like cause with an A. Because it is. And yes, this is where cause comes from. Anyway, it makes this word cause-out. Out-cause. I don’t know. Something.

Accuse showed up in the early fourteenth century meaning charge with an offense/error, impugn, or blame. So not far off. It’s from the Old French accuser, which meant to accuse but early meant report or disclose. Before that it was the classical Latin accusare, where it could mean accusation or charges. That word is actually from a phrase, ad causa, the cause, a mix of ad, with regard to, and the already introduced causa. So it’s “with regard to cause”, kind of fancy. Which makes sense since it was often a legal term.

Finally today, recuse. It’s the youngest one, having shown up in the late fourteenth century meaning to reject another’s authority as prejudiced. You can tell it’s another legal thing because of the fanciness. It’s from the Old French recuser and classical Latin recusare, refuse or object against. The re- means against, while causa…you know. I guess having cause against something is a way to refuse it.



  1. I like the whole comes from a phrase thing. I guess it means we're dumbing down, but I like the idea of something that used to be a phrase becoming just one word.

  2. Recuse certainly is one of those legal terms we don't use at all in the real world. Wait, lawyers don't live in the real world?

  3. I don't think it should be okay for words to be composed JUST from a prefix and a suffix. That's like having a train that just an engine and a caboose.
    What's the point of that?

  4. Always so interesting to see where words come from.


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