Thursday, August 13, 2015

Language of Confusion: -Posed, Part II

Whoo! Here we go! As you’ll recall from last week, the suffix -pose is totally incorrect since French decided that when a Latin word ended with place, ponere, they’d just switch it to the etymologically distinct Latin word for rest, pausere, because it almost sounds like the noun version of ponere, positionem (position, obvs). Because, you know. Why not.

Now, on to this week’s words…

Impose first showed up in the late fourteenth century, meaning literally “to lay (a crime, etc.) to the account of” and two centuries later morphed to what we know it as. It comes from the Old French imposer, which could mean put or place as well as charge or accuse. The im- comes from the prefix in- and means in (stop me if I’m going too fast for you). -Poser is of course from the Late Latin pausare, which as I mentioned, is not the same as ponere even though ponere’s definition (place) is the one being used. Basically, impose is “place in” which I guess makes sense for something like a crime that’s being laid on you. Superimpose is just impose with the prefix super on it. It showed up in 1787 (yes, that specific). Super- as a prefix means above, over, or beyond, so superimpose is “to lay over in”, which is pretty close to what superimposing is.

Next, compose. It first showed up in the early fifteenth century as compousen (I guess it wasn’t cool enough). It comes from the Old French composer, put together or arrange, a mix of the prefix com- (with or together) and the not-real -poser. The Latin equivalent of the word is componere, settle, and the literal meaning of the word is to place together, which does kind of sound like settle. We also decompose, which just comes from sticking de- in front of compose. What does that de- mean? Opposite of. So instead of settling together, it’s settling apart. And interestingly enough, composite has a slightly different etymology, coming from the Old French composite and classical Latin compositus, the past participle of componere. Rather than the mix-and-match prefix + wrong word root of the others, composite is a sensible etymology.

Transpose showed up in the late fourteenth century, and again it was from Old French, who screwed it up. The word there was transposer, transfer or render symbolically, and it came from the classical Latin transponere, which meant either transfer or literally to place over. In this case, trans- means over, so this word is place over, which is pretty much what transposing is. And of course, like composition, transposition actually comes from its Latin progenitor, transpositionem. It must be that s in there that screwed French (and thus English) up.

Finally today, juxtapose, which is easily the most fun of these words to say. It showed up in 1851 while juxtaposition showed up in the mid seventeenth century. The words are so recent that they actually come from modern, not Old, French, where they’re just juxtaposer and juxtaposition. Nope, didn’t even attempt to make that one original. Now, French was the language that cobbled this word together, taking a Latin word and adding position at the end. Because classical Latin doesn’t use J the way French does, their word is iuxta, beside or according to. So it’s a position next to…juxtapose.



  1. Nobody does anything the way the French do.
    So, before the fifteenth century, what did they call people who composed music? Were they Componeres?

  2. Interesting. Juxtapose was one of my 12th grade words. Everyone was using it in their essays.

  3. Count on the French to screw things up!

  4. Juxtaposition is one of my favorite words.
    Yeah, that's what I have today.

  5. Love how there are actual specific years for a couple of those.

  6. I love the word juxtaposition. How often do you get a j and an x in the same word?


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