Thursday, July 17, 2014

Language of Confusion: -quire

Words that end in -quire. Ready?

Inquire first showed up in the late thirteenth century, coming from the Vulgar Latin inquaerere, a mix of the prefix in- (into) and the classical Latin quaerere, search. Oh, and for the record? That word is what gives us the dreaded query. Enquire has the exact same origins; it’s basically inquire, but specifically for asking a question. The E probably showed up because of Old French influence, which is why some of the words that start with en- have in- in classical Latin.

Next we have acquire, which showed up in the middle of the fifteenth century as acqueren. It comes from the Old French aquerre, same meaning, which can be traced to the Vulgar Latin acquaerere and classical Latin acquirere, again, with the same meaning we have. It’s a combination of the prefix ad- (they dropped the d), which means extra and quaerere, search, making it “to search for extra hard”.

I’m not expecting any big surprises with require, but here we go. It showed up in the late fourteenth century actually meaning to ask a question. Okay, that was a little surprising. It comes from the Old French requerre, seek or ask, Vulgar Latin requaerere, and classical Latin requirere, again, meaning seek or ask, like you’d ask something of someone. The re- prefix here means repeatedly, so it’s to search repeatedly. The switch between ask and need might seem weird, but the word request also stems from requiere, and it’s definition stayed the same. Apparently, the switch came in 1751 because it went from ask to ask in an authoritative manor, like a demand.



  1. Quite a peculiar switch from ask to need.

  2. Hi Jeanne - I hadn't taken in the bit about en and in for French and Latin words .. that's interesting ...

    I thought you were going to use Quire for paper ... and of course another spelling for Choir ...

    But it is fascinating where words come from and how they change over time ...

    Cheers Hilary


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