Thursday, October 24, 2013

Language of Confusion: Still Able

Now it’s time for the end of the two-parter. I’m sure all of you have been on the edge of your seats for the past week.

First showed up in the middle of the fifteenth century, coming from the Middle French formidable (if you can wrap your head around that spelling) and the classical Latin formidabilis, terrifying. It comes from the word formidare, to fear, and formido, fearfulness. I guess it makes sense since something formidable is scary to deal with : ).

Came about in the early sixteenth century from the Middle French…impeccable. Come on, they’re not even trying. Anyway, it can also be traced to the Late Latin impeccabilis, which is made up of the prefix in- (opposite of) and pecare, to sin. So it’s “not sinning”, which makes sense for the perfect impeccable.

Showed up in the mid-fifteenth century from the classical Latin inevitabilis, which has pretty much the same meaning. The prefix there is in-, which I already said means not or opposite. The rest of the word translates as avoidable (a word that I’ve already gone over). Long story short, inevitable is a fancier way of saying unavoidable.

Showed up in the early sixteenth century from the Late Latin inscrutabilis, which means something like unknowable. This is the third time I’ve mentioned the in- prefix, so I’m thinking you get it by now, but scrutabilis comes from scrutari, search, which is also the origin word for scrutiny. Something that is inscrutable is unknowable, so in a sense, it’s impossible to search for.

Showed up in the mid-fifteenth century. There’s an Anglo-French word liable, but before that, there was no -able. In Old French they have lier, to bind, sometimes metaphorically by obligation, and the classical Latin ligare, to bind or tie. The latter is also the origin word for ligament and ligature, both of which kept the more literal meaning in English.

One of the earlier words, it showed up in the late fourteenth century. It comes from the Middle French malleable and the Medieval Latin malleabilis. The latter comes from another word, malleare, to beat with a hammer. I guess they needed a single word for that very specific thing because they used it so much. Anyway, it’s also related to the classical Latin malleus, hammer, the origin word for mallet.

Another word from the late fourteenth century. It comes from the Late Latin palpabilis, “that may be touched” and classical Latin palpare, grope. As nonsensical as it might seem, that is also the origin word for feel (apparently feel’s Proto Germanic ancestors switched it from a p to an f…apparently for funzies).

Remember how I said the word able isn’t related to the suffix -able? Yeah, this is another odd one. Having able in it is just a coincidence. When it first showed up in the mid-thirteenth century, it was spelled parabol, although it did come from the Old French parable. In classical Latin, the word is parabola, comparison, and origin for the math term. The Latin parabola comes from the Greek parabole, which literally means “throw beside”. Para- means alongside and that bole comes from ballein, to throw.

This word is fairly new, coming around in 1828. It comes from the modern French viable, a mix of vie, life, and the -able suffix.

Showed up in the early fifteenth century, coming from the classical Latin venerabilis and venerari, to worship. That word happens to come from venus, beauty or love, like the goddess : ).

First showed up in the early seventeenth century from the Late Latin vulnerabilis and classical Latin vulnerare, wound. And that’s it. Well, that sure ends things on a boring note.



  1. It's not a boring note of you like wounded heroes. ;)

  2. I'm pretty sure you forgot lunchable.
    I couldn't help it.

  3. Liable, of course, must have been devised first by a lawyer.

  4. French isn't even trying or English? Because I wouldn't be shocked to learn that English just appropriated the words wholesale.

  5. This list is awesome. And woot! Another UT Austin shoutout. :)


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