Thursday, January 21, 2016

Language of Confusion: -Quest

Where does the word quest come from? And how is it related to question? Or is it not because honestly words are stupid sometimes.

Quest showed up in the early fourteenth century as a noun that meant an inquest or a search for something—hunting game in particular, which is why the verb quest originally meant to hunt. Quest comes from the Old French queste, search, hunt, or inquest, and before that the Medieval Latin questa, search or inquiry. Medieval Latin is of course related to classical Latin, and questa comes from quaesitus, acquisition, the past participle of quaerere, to search. That’s also the origin word for query, but I’m not doing -query words or we’ll be here all day. BTW, it’s thought that quaerere comes from the Proto Indo European kwo, which is a part of question pronouns in that language. Basically, quest has “who” as part of it.

Question is even older, showing up in the early thirteenth century as a philosophical or theological problem, then a century later morphing into what we use it as. It comes from the Anglo French question and Old French question, which means…question. And also a problem or difficulty, a legal inquest, interrogation or torture. Yeah, pretty interesting definitions there. Anyway, the French question comes from the classical Latin quaestionem, question, which is an action noun version of quaerere. At least quest and question are actually related.

Request showed up in the mid fourteenth century as a noun, not appearing as a verb until two centuries later. Most of its history is traced through Latin words, most recently from the Vulgar Latin requaesita, but before that the classical Latin requisita, requirement, requisitus, asked for, and requirere, require. It’s a mix of re-, repeatedly, and quaerere, search. So request and require have the same origin. In fact, require used to mean request before request took that meaning over. Just to remind you that words are stupid.

Inquest has an incredibly similar origin. It showed up in the late thirteenth century basically meaning what it does today although spelled either enquest or an-queste. It comes from the Old French enqueste, Vulgar Latin inquaestia, and then classical Latin inquisita, required, and inquirere, probe. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll realizes that that word is the origin of inquire and a mix of in- (into) and quaerere. I guess an inquest is searching into something, so that kind of makes sense. Isn’t it funny when that happens?

Conquest showed up in the early fourteenth century as a mix of two Old French words, conquest (acquisition) and conquest (…also acquisition; I’m beginning to see why they combined them). They’re the past participles of conquerre, which comes from the Vulgar Latin conquaerere, to search for or win. That word is a version of the classical Latin conquirere, search, a mix of the prefix com- as an intensifier and quaerere. So in order to conquer something, you have to really search for it.

There’s also bequest, but weirdly enough it’s not related to these words so it’s going to have to wait for another time.



  1. I guess devouring a box of Hot Tamales last night can't be considered a conquest since I didn't have to search for them...

  2. Yikes, that was a mouthful... Speaking of words being weird, I thought you might enjoy this:

  3. That all seems to make sense. What's up with that? These things aren't supposed to make sense!


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