Thursday, May 21, 2015

Language of Confusion: The Tributes, Part II

Okay, now for the words that end in tribute. None of them better have nothing to do with the word or I swear, I will burn this language down to the ground.

Shut up. It doesn’t have to make sense.

Contribute showed up in the early sixteenth century, fairly late, but contribution showed up earlier in the late fourteenth century. The first comes from the classical Latin contributus, while the second comes from contributionem (by way of the Old French contribution), and both those words come (obviously) from contribuere, or contribute (also obviously). If you remember last week, tribuere means allot, assign, or attribute. The com- means together, making this word something like “allot together”. I guess a contribution is allotting a bunch of money together…

Distribute showed up in the early fifteenth century, and like contribute, the noun, distribution, showed up a little earlier. Their origin history is pretty much exactly the same as above, just replace con- with dis-. Their classical Latin forms, distributus and distributionem, come from distribuere, which just means distribute. Funny how last week there were so many changes but here there are hardly any. In this case, dis- means individually, so this word is “to assign individually”. I guess it’s a way of saying each individual is assigned something. Maybe.

Next, attribute. It showed up in the late fourteenth century, coming from the classical Latin attributus and attribuere…or attribute (shocking!). Attribuere also had other more literal meanings, like assign to and bestow, which makes sense since the prefix comes from ad-, which means to. Added with the assign meaning from tribuere, attribute is something “assigned to” something else.

The last word on the list is retribution. It showed up in the late fourteenth century meaning repayment, coming from the Old French retribution and classical Latin retributionem. I’m sure you can guess where that word comes from. Retribuere translates to “return”, which is where the repayment sense came from, with re- being back plus tribuere as assign—to assign back. Its meaning change came about because of Christian theology, which, in the sixteenth century used “day of retribution” to mean a time of “divine reward or punishment”. Eventually, the reward part got dropped, and we were left with retribution as we know it today.

All right, English language. You get to live. This time.



  1. Isn't it interesting how often it's the reward part that gets left behind in favor of vengeance.

  2. I can think of a few people who might have retribution coming their way.

  3. Now it'd be funny to use retribution and mean reward. that might make for an interesting twist...

  4. Interesting… I hadn't ever thought to link those words, but they do kind of go together.

  5. Well, I can see how the prefixes con- dis- and re- make sense with this word. Cool.


Please validate me.