Thursday, October 18, 2012

Language of Confusion: Advertisement

With all the subliminal advertising going on, I’m surprised it took me this long to do this one. I guess because it’s subliminal, I don’t notice it as much.
Advertisement and advertise first showed up in the early fifteenth century, basically with the same meaning: a public notice. It came from the Middle Frenchavertissement, which in turn came from avertir—advertise. Avertir can be tracedto the Late Latin advertere, which means “turn toward” rather than having anything to do with advertising. See, over the centuries it shifted in meaning from literal turning towards to figuratively turning attention by giving notice to others. It wasn’t until the end of the eighteenth century that the definition of “Notice of goods for sale” was firmly in place.

And of course the shift of the definition gives advertise some interesting relatives. Advert (remark or turn attention to) isn’t that common these days, but avert is, and both are descended from avertir, as is averse. If you pull the Latin advertere apart, you get ad-, a prefix meaning toward, and vertere, to turn, which is the parent of versus, a word I've actually talked about before as being related to worth. And believe me when I say that vertere has a lot more than thosetwo children.

TL;DR: Pretty much any word with “vert” or “verse” in it is from vertere, advertise included.



  1. It never occurred to me before, but there was a time when there was no advertising. Interesting how the term evolved.

  2. And there we have the origin of one of the most obscene words ever devised....


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