Thursday, May 28, 2015

Language of Confusion: Crisis Point

Sometimes I think up really good titles and I just have to use them.

Crisis first showed up in the early fifteenth century, coming from the Greek word krisis, which meant the turning point in a disease or, literally, judgment. Specific, huh? It came to us by way of the Latin crisis because they just couldn’t have K for the K sound. Seriously, can we just go back to the K? Anyway, krisis comes from krinein, separate or judge, and before that it was the Proto Indo European krei-, distinguish or sieve. Apparently, in the early seventeenth century, people stopped using it for the disease meaning and started just being a turning point in general. No word as to how it got from judgment to there, though.

There are some other words we’re going to look at today, and it might seem a bit weird. The first is concern. Really! It showed up in the early fifteenth century meaning perceive or distinguish (hmm, distinguish…that seems familiar) as well as to refer to. It came from the Middle French concerner and Medieval Latin concernere, touch or belong to. That’s the figurative use of the Late Latin word concernere, sift like in a sieve—now I know I’ve heard that word before. That’s because concernere is a mix of the classical Latin prefix com-, with, which means to sift, but also to see or perceive and is related to krinein. I guess distinguishing something is separating it, like you separate stuff through a sieve, and when you’re distinguishing it, you’re referring to it in particular…it almost makes sense.

Finally, we also have discern. It showed up in the late fourteenth century from the Old French discerner, distinguish (there it is again!) and the classical Latin discernere, which just means discern. Dis- means off or away, so the word is “separate off”. It’s like really separating something out. And unlike the other words, its definition stuck with it.

TL;DR: Crisis is almost pure Greek, -cern is totes Roman Latin, but they originally meant the same thing (distinguish/sift). Which really has little to do with how we use them today.



  1. Makes you wonder why we have both C and K.

  2. Definitely a tangled web. You did a good job separating them out!

  3. Personally, I can't tell them apart at all.

  4. Crisis was used in a newspaper social media outlet today, in terms of describing the FIFA arrests. I don't really think arresting corrupt executives of a corrupt agency overseeing one of the world's most boring sports rates as a crisis.

  5. Yup. It's an awesome title. Now you just need to write a boo you can call 'Crisis Point' :)

  6. This is what happens when we pull words from different languages...

  7. Yeah, I'm with William. Arresting corrupt executives sounds like a great thing to me. Although if they are now going to be put through a sieve of justice, it might be a crisis for t THEM while the rest of us cheer on.


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