Thursday, December 30, 2010

Language of Confusion: ‘flicted

One of the interesting things about prefixes is that they can change an otherwise meaningless word into something with substance. Flict is not a word, but you put an in- in front of it and suddenly we have something. And let’s not forget con- or a-, other common prefixes.

It’s easy to see the ‘flict’ words are related. One is forcing something on a subject (inflict). One is the physical damage of the subject (afflict). And finally, we have the word that is used when one is torn between opposing actions (conflict). But what, I ask, is this flict?

Captain Etymology to the rescue! [insert catchy theme music]

I enjoy this way too much.

All three of these words are derived from Latin, but they all showed up as we know them at different times. The first was afflict, which showed up in the late fourteenth century as a word for “to cast down.” In Old French it is aflicter, in Latin, afflictare, to damage, harass, torment.
Remember the word frequentative? It means making a verb continuous, like wrestle (an ongoing struggle) from wrest (taking from). And afflictare is the frequentative of affligere, to overthrow or strike down. Instead of one overthrow, it’s a constant challenge. Interesting considering it now means to strike down with illness, which I suppose is a torment. : )

Later, in the early fifteenth century, conflict showed up as a verb (to be in a conflict) and at about the same time, a noun. It comes from the Latin conflictus or confligere, to be in conflict with. Inflict came about a century later, in the 1560s, from similar Latin words: inflictus and infligere, to strike against. So what about the flict?

All three words have the same root: fligere (flictus), to strike. It comes from the Proto-Indo-European word for to strike, bhlig, which is seen in several other languages, in Greek as phlibein (to crush), in Czech as blizna (scar), in Welsh as blif (catapult). In all cases, it is a word for doing damage to something. How interesting that we have no direct translation in English.

The difference is in the prefixes. The in- in the on sense (a strike on one’s home for example), the con- in the with sense (strike/battle with), the a-, from the prefix ad-, in the to sense (a strike directly to someone, which is probably why it is now associated with bodily harm).

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. Wait. That was last week, wasn't it?

Sources: As always, the Online Etymology Dictionary.
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  1. Huh, I learn something new everyday. thanks for posting

  2. interesting word facts. mind boggling . .


  3. Did you study linguistics, or is this more in the nature of a hobby? (Or both?)

  4. That was cool. I studied linguistics in college but now I have too many "conflicting" interests and I don't delve into words as much as I would like. Thanks for exercising my brain.

  5. Summer: Glad you enjoyed it.

    Donna: I feel the same way.

    Su: Just a hobby. Maybe someday I can study more.

    K: That's cool that you studied linguistics. Words fascinate me.


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