Thursday, May 2, 2013

Language of Confusion: -past Tense

For Su, who mentioned last week that she wondered about the word past.

Now, I did past the time period, but not the suffix. It isn’t until Su mentioned it that I wondered what the difference might be between them. After all, vent and -vent turned out not to be related at all.

Pasture can be both a verb (putting animals out to graze) and a noun (an area where animals graze). The noun came first, in the early fourteenth century, while the verb came around at the end of the century. They come from slightly different words in Old French, the noun’s being pasture (big leap) and the verb’s being pasturer, which of course are related. The French pasture comes from the Late Latin pastura, feeding or grazing, which comes from the word pascere, to graze.

Another word that has to do with eating is repast. It first showed up in the early fourteenth century from the Old French repast, a meal, which itself comes from the Late Latin repastus, also meal. Repastus is the past participle of repascere, to feed again. The prefix re-means repeatedly or again, but I’m not really sure why adding a re- to “graze” would turn it into “meal”. Maybe because a meal is done repeatedly at the same time? Just wild mass guessing here.

And it may or may not surprise you (it makes sense when you think about it) but pastor also comes from the same line. It showed up in the late fourteenth century (although interestingly enough, appeared earlier as a last name) from the Old French pastor/pastur, a shepherd. Of course the Old French word comes from classical Latin, where the word for shepherd is pastorem/pastor. And obviously the word for shepherd, one who tends to animals, is from pastus, the past participle of pascere.

There are a lot of other words that have past in them, although not really as a part of the word. The word pasta for example comes from the Italian (for a change) pasta, which comes from the Late Latin pastaand Greek…pasta. This word isn’t related to pasture, although that would make sense, but rather paste, which is what the word pasta means in Greek. Our paste comes to us from the Late Latin pasta by way of the Old French paste. Also related? Pastry, pastel, pasty, and pastiche.



  1. Pastor means shepherd? Okay, that makes sense, but only if you really think about it.

  2. Oooh, you responded to my request. So exciting! Thanks!

  3. The pastor-shepherd tie does make sense.


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