Thursday, March 8, 2018

Language of Confusion: Privates

I feel like I deserve credit for not naming this post Private Parts. But that I lost it all by mentioning it here.

Private first showed up in the late fourteenth century, coming from the classical Latin privatus, which in a revelation that shouldn’t shock anyone means private. It also comes from privare, to deprive or separate, and privus, individual (not like a person, like each separate thing). That word can be traced back to the Proto Indo European prei-wo-, separate or individual, and the prei- is what gave us per-, you know, like one per customer. As well as a billion other words that I’m not getting sucked into right now.

Then there’s deprive, which showed up in the mid fourteenth century. It’s from the Old French  depriver and Medieval Latin deprivare. It’s basically just privare with a de- in front, but this time the de- means entirely, which I think is weird because de usually means undoing something. Separate entirely…deprive. Also related is privy, which actually showed up more than a century before private. It came to English from the Old French privé, intimate, private place, but that just came from the Latin privatus, which means private and is related to privare and privus.

That’s it for this week. I must still be exhausted from the leg- thing. Which reminds me that as I revealed a few weeks ago, privilege the leg- word is related to private, too. It’s private + leg (technically legal). There’s no escaping leg! Although even weirder is how private is somehow related to proper. I’m not making that up, although I totally could because it’s one of those etymology things that’s so weird it has to be true.



  1. I won't add to the private parts bit.
    How did private come to mean a military rank?

  2. I'm so sure today's middle schoolers will be certain I'm depriving them of something. They always do ;)

  3. Hate to deprive you of witty comments, but I got nothing...


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