Thursday, December 13, 2012

Language of Confusion: -Mission Impossible 2

Last week, I talked about the -mission and –mit words that everyone has heard of. This week, it’s the one that range from archaic to “Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize it as a word”.

For those who don’t know, pretermit means to disregard or neglect, or to interrupt. Like last week’s words, it comes from classical Latin, the word being praetermittere—overlook. The –mittere (missionem is the past participle of it) part is obvious. If you don’t remember last week, it means “to send”. The praeter- part is where things get interesting as it’s not exactly a common prefix. It means beyond or more thanand is the combination of prae—before—and –itum, to go.

No, not intermission. This word means “to send in” rather than a break between parts. The intro- prefix comes from the classical Latin word with the same spelling that means inside or within. So it’s inside plus to send. Pretty straightforward.

This word means dismissal or resign and it has a verb form in demit . You might think it sounds like dismissal and it does, but actually, dismissal replaced another word: dismission. Anyway, in classical Latin it’s demissionem, a sending away, and it’s the past participle of demittere, to send down. It makes more sense when you know that the de- means down. It must have changed from down to away somewhere between the Latin and English versions.

I cannot believe we don’t use this word more. It means “to set free” and is one of the most fun words I’ve come across. In Latin it’s either manumittereor manumissionem, which literally mean “set free from one’s hand”. As you may have guessed, the manu- prefix means hand.

Promise and compromise/compromit
Yes, promise is related to the -mission words. It comes from the Latin promissum, the past participle of promittere—send forth, foretell or promise. The prefix pro- means before, making it “send in before”. Compromise is an offshoot of that, descended from the Latin compromissus and compromittere, which means a mutual promise. It makes sense since com- means together. And yes, compromit is (or was) a word. Since it was basically a synonym for the endanger sense of compromise, it isn’t seen much anymore.

Next we have a bunch of words with familiar prefixes, but that have fallen out of use/been supplanted. Extramission for example, isn’t needed now that we have emit. Since the extra- prefix is related to the ex- one (where the e- in emit comes from), you can see where having both is redundant. There’s also amission/amit. The a- comes from ab-, a prefix meaning not or away from, so instead of sending in it’s being sent out. Useless when we have omit. Immission/immitis similar to the also not much used intromit. The prefix im- comes from in-which means…in. Anyway, it’s the opposite of emit. Instead of send out, it means send in. Finally, we have the odd word irremission, which means “refusal of pardon”. The ir- prefix is another form of in-, this one meaning “not” rather than in (no, that’s not confusing or anything). If we take it to mean not remission, it would mean not going back to its normal state. With mission is often a specific duty or service, it’s the refusal of going back to that service.

Whew, that was another big one. Anyone still there? Anyone at all? Is it just me or is it echoing in this blog?



  1. I'm still here! This is fascinating! I love it when you tell us about words, sometimes I feel totally clueless. Great post!

  2. I think it's time to resurrect some of these words. I particularly like pretermit.

  3. Those first four particularly are very obscure!


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