Thursday, December 27, 2012

Language of Confusion: Define

My last etymology post for 2012. Sunrise, sunset. [wipes tear] For this, um, let’s say “momentous” occasion, I decided to go with define as it seems like the only thing more meta to look up would be the word etymology.

Define showed up in the late fourteenth century with two meanings: to specify and to end. It comes from the Old French defenir, meaning to terminate or determine. Further back in classical Latin we have definire, which has the varied meanings of to limit, to determine and to explain. Funny how defining something can also give it limits : ).

The reason for the limit definition makes more sense when you look at the pieces of the word. De- is a prefix that in this case means completelyand finire means to limit or come to an end. Or finish. So why does an explanation for something attached to a word that means limit? Well, it’s just how the word was used. It started in the fifteenth century as the “essential nature” of something and from there progressed to the meaning of words and then what something means in general.

Oh, and yes, definite is from the same word. I guess when you’re sure about something, it’s “defined”. Aren’t words fun?

Happy New Year!



  1. Yes, words are fun. Next you should trace comma or period (punctuation) or gerund or something.

  2. I didn't know any of this. Thanks for defining it for me :)


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