Sunday, November 7, 2010

Language of Confusion: The Reimagining!

Seriously, every movie franchise does this. And I hate it every time. If someone says so-and-so’s “bold new vision!” I want to puke.

Um, but I suppose that isn’t relevant. Anyway, there are tons more dual words to look at, but why don’t we try for something different? Besides words that have dual meanings, there are words that sound similar (insure and ensure) or words that should not mean the same thing but do (flammable and inflammable…what the hell is up with that?). Hell, there’s even more strangeness we can look at. We aren’t limited by one thing! So…shall we?

I’m looking at insure and it’s many ‘sure’ cousins: ensure, assure, insurance, et al. The thing these words all have in common is the sure, so that’s the best place to start.

It shouldn’t surprise you that the word sure (meaning confident, positive or unfailing, unerring) is related to secure, and are even the same word in Old French, sur. Both come from the Latin securus, itself a combination of two words: se and cura (free from). Think about it: free from worry is secure, and if you know it, you are sure. : )

Sure started out as a synonym for secure, but drifted into becoming a word for mentally confident in something. This is the meaning that branched into words like assure (again, Old French, asseurer—to calm, protect, render sure). The Romance languages, Old French included, like to use the a- prefix to mean to or at. So when one assures another, she is directing sure-ness towards them!

Soon after sure was introduced, ensure came into play as well. The en- prefix usually means inside or into. One who is ensured is one who is brought into sureness. When you ensure someone, you tell them it’s okay, no they don’t look fat, it happens to every guy.

About a century after sure and ensure came into use, (which was Middle Ages, around 14th century), insure did as well. The prefix in- is in this case, identical in meaning to en-, where it means brought inside or into. Except in this case it doesn’t refer to being brought to a state of mind (sureness) but a financial sense. This difference in essences is likely why both ensure and insure are still around and not integrated into one another (because of the prevalence, the in version would probably be victorious in usage). Anyway, when someone is brought in to surance, they are insured. The 17th century clearly defined insure as financial security, how we still use it today.

Again, thanks goes to the online etymology dictionary (, and to, (, the best online dictionary I’ve come across.

As always, I’m open to suggestions for words to look into. And now, back to NaNoWriMo.

1 comment:

  1. "Think about it: free from worry is secure, and if you know it, you are sure." Love that! :)


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