Thursday, January 14, 2016

Language of Confusion: -Plains

And now, for words with plain in them.

Just plain plain showed up in the early fourteenth century meaning flat or smooth (which explains why we call them plains), then evolving to mean evident, free from obstruction, and then simple and ordinary. It kind of makes sense because something that’s plain (flat) doesn’t have anything on it and what you see is what you get. Further back, the word plain comes from the classical Latin planus, flat. Which is the origin word for plane. So I guess if anyone ever gives you grief for accidentally switching them, remind them they were the same word until English messed them up.

Explain showed up in the early fifteenth century, but explanation actually showed up earlier in the late fourteenth century. Both derive from the classical Latin explanare, explain, which is a combination of ex-, out, and planus. So it’s to flatten out. I guess figuratively it’s to flatten out with words. Oh, and once upon a time it used to be spelled “explane” until plain screwed it up.

Complain (and complaint) showed up in the late fourteenth century, coming from the Old French complaindre, to lament, and Vulgar Latin complangere. And that -plangere does not from planus but plangere, which means lament or strike your breast, and because com- is just an intensifier here, it’s to really lament. And not related to plain or explain at all.

Hm, that was a pretty short one. I wonder if words with -plane in them are interesting at all...



  1. I thought this was pretty interesting for a plain post. I also vote to bring back the word explane. On a different note, I like the word lament, possibly because I've been doing a lot of that lately....

  2. I like lament more than complain. People should lament about bad service more. A plane is also something that flattens things out, so I'm with you there.

  3. Lament seems a more suitable word, I think.

  4. A plane plain. Or a plain plane.
    Or planes on a plain. Or something.

  5. And a flat, smooth plane in geometry...

  6. Good old English! Why have one way to spell words that mean almost the same thing when you can mix it up!

  7. Understanding is the main reason of any language. )

  8. I like the subtle shades of meaning. I know lament and complain mean essentially the same thing, but complain feels so much more whiny....


Please validate me.