Thursday, June 28, 2012

Language of Confusion: Rupture

The word rupture comes from a huge family. Bankrupt, interrupt, abrupt are all related through the “rupt” despite having such different meanings. And we can’t forget corrupt, erupt, disrupt and irrupt.

Since they were all adapted from preexisting words in other languages, they did not appear in English in the order you might expect. The first of the words to show up was corrupt in the mid fourteenth century. It wasn’t until fifty years later that rupture itself appeared, along with interrupt. Disruption and eruptionalso showed up at this time, although it wasn’t until a few centuries later that just disruptand eruptwere part of the vocabulary. In fact abruptand bankruptboth predate disrupt and erupt. Irruptionalso appeared before irrupt, but the former didn’t show up until the 1570s and the latter until 1855. Not that it’s even a common word now.

So that’s their English history. Big shocker—they all come from classical Latin equivalents. There’s corruptus, disruptus, abruptus…I think you get the idea. Ruptus with a prefix attached. All come from past participles of rumpere, which means “to break”. Although rupture has a different meaning in English (more like bursting or exploding), the general feeling of destruction is the same. What’s interesting is what happens when the prefixes get attached.

Look at corrupt for example. There’s no active destruction, more a moral one. The prefix comes from com-, which in this case is supposed to be an intensifier. This makes more sense in Latin, where corruptus has both a literal (destroy) meaning and a figurative one (our definition of corrupt).

Interrupt has the inter- prefix, which means “between” and can be traced to the Proto Indo European enter (before you ask, yes). The word’s meaning is “to break between”, but in a figurative sense. Similarly, disruption means breaking apart figuratively, although in Latin it meant “shatter” or “break to pieces”, with the dis- prefix meaning apartit was “shattering apart”.

To us, abrupt usually means a sudden change. In Latin, abruptus meant “broken off, disconnected”, which probably greatly influenced how we use the word. The prefix ab- means “off”and with the figurative “break”…well, you get it.

Erupt comes from the Latin erumpere, which means “to break/burst out”. The e comes from the prefix ex-, which means out. It’s one of the few words that stayed with the literal meaning even in English. There’s also irrupt, which comes from irrumpere. The ir- comes from in-, which in this case means “into, in on”, making it “to break into”. It’s not used very much but it means either “to break in suddenly” or “violent activity or emotion”. Can anyone use it in a sentence? How about a dirty sentence?

Finally, there’s no one’s favorite word to hear, bankrupt. I’m going to assume we all know what bank means, making bankrupt a “breaking of your bank”.

TL;DR: “Rupt” means break, usually figuratively, sometimes literally, with a prefix thrown in to taste.



  1. Hmm, I'll keep it PG. How about, "My piggy bank suffered an irruption"? After I threw it onto the floor, of course:)

    I love word origins!

  2. In the Chalet School series, people are always irrupting into rooms.

  3. Corrupt... one of the politician's favourite words, though they'll never admit to it...


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