Thursday, December 6, 2012

Language of Confusion: -Mission Impossible

Fair warning: There are a lot of –mission words. I’m going to have to break this up over a few posts which is good because I don’t have to think up new ideas. The first group I’m going to focus on is the prefixed words that I’ve heard of, commission, admission, etc. and next week, the ones you may not recognize (I know I didn’t). But before that, let’s look at the core word that started this mess.

Many of you have probably heard of religious missions, people going abroad on a duty for their church. When the word mission showed up in the 1590s, that’s what it meant. It took on a secular meaning a few decades later, but not a militaristic one until as recent as the twentieth century. Mission was taken from the classical Latin word missionem, which meant dispatching someone away or a discharge from service. Missionem comes from the word mittere, to send, a word that brings all the –mit words (submit, remit, omit) into the picture as well.

Now the prefixed words.

Commission: showed up in the mid-fourteenth century meaning an authority entrusted to someone. Comes from a classical Latin word, commisionenm, with roughly the same meaning. Related to commitere(commit). The prefix, com-, means together or with.

Intermission: showed up in the early fifteenth century from the classical Latin intermissionem, which means interruption. A combination of the prefix inter-, meaning between, and –mission, so in a sense, between missions. Related to the word intermittere (intermit is indeed a word meaning temporarily discontinue, but you might be more familiar with intermittent).

Emission: showed up in the early fifteenth century as something sent out, but not necessarily given off as radiation is “emitted”. Came from the classical Latin emissionem by way of the Middle French  émission. Emissionem means pretty much the same thing. The e- prefix comes from ex-, meaning out, so it makes sense that it’s related to emittere (emit), which means send out.

Remission: showed up in the early thirteenth century as the forgiveness of sins and about two centuries later was adapted to diseases. It can be found in Old Frenchas remission and classical Latin as remissionem, which means relaxation or sending back. In this case, the re- prefix is used to indicate a return to the original place, so remission in a sense is a return to the usual. It’s related to remittere (remit).

Submission: showed up in the late fourteenth century with a meaning you might not recognize. Instead of meaning obedience, it meant giving to another party for their judgment. It comes from the Old French submissionand classical Latin submissionem, where it had a definition of yield. It’s related to submittere (submit), where the sub- prefix means under.

Omission: showed up in the late fourteenth century from the classical Latin omissionem. The o- comes from ob- (which you might recognize from object), a prefix meaning toward or against, but in this case is thought to be an intensive. So it means to definitely send out, in effect doing so by leaving it out. As you probably guessed by now, omissionem is related to omittere (omit).

Transmission: showed up in the early seventeenth century as a synonym for the noun transport. It comes from the classical Latin transmissionem, which can mean passage or sending across. The prefix trans- means across or to go beyond, so you can see where transmissionem means to send across. And of course, it’s related to transmittere (transmit).

Admission: showed up in the early fifteenth century. If any of you have ever worried about getting into college, you’ll understand why admission used to simply mean acceptance or approval before also meaning acknowledgement, allowing in and admission price. It comes from the classical Latin admissionem, letting in. The ad- means to, making the word “send to”, which is perhaps better phrased as “let in to”. It’s related to admittere (admit).

Permission: showed up in the early fifteenth century from the classical Latin permissionem. The per- means throughmaking the word “send through”, which might seem confusing but makes more sense when you realize it also means “to allow to pass through”. As expected, it’s related to permittere (permit).

Whew, that was a lot of information…you still reading?



  1. like when you send a manuscript to an agent hoping they find it worthy?

    And no, I stopped reading at the title.

  2. I did wonder when permission was going to rear its figurative head here!


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