Thursday, May 31, 2018

Language of Confusion: -Ment, Part IV

Probably another two weeks left after this one, so strap in. Today’s are all…things. They’re physical things. They’re tangible. They exist. That’s the only connection they have other than their suffix.

Filament showed up in the late sixteenth century, although of course back then it wasn’t used to refer to what’s in a lightbulb but “fine, untwisted thread”. Which I guess a lightbulb filament looks like. It comes from the Latin filamentum, filament, and before that the Late Latin verb filare, to spin or draw out in a long line (like you would a thread), and is from filum, wire or thread. That word can be traced back to the Proto Indo European root gwhi-, which meant thread or tendon and is the origin word for words like file and fillet. But not all definitions of file. Just the that means to file papers.

Ligament showed up in the late fourteenth century from the classical Latin ligamentum, which could mean ligament or ligature, bandage, or tie. It’s from the verb ligare, to tie, from the Proto Indo European leig-, tie or bind. That one’s related to a lot of other words, too, which I’m sure I’ll get into someday.

Sediment showed up in the mid sixteenth century coming to us from the Middle French sediment and classical Latin sedimentum, which, yeah, just means sediment. That’s from the Proto Indo European root sed-, to sit. Oh man, so many words are related to this one…

Tenement showed up in the fourteenth century from the Anglo French/Old French tenement, land, fief, or property. That’s from the Medieval Latin tenementum, with roughly the same meaning, from the classical Latin verb tenere, to hold. Once again we can trace this back to Proto Indo European, this time to the word ten-, to stretch. That one’s related to seemingly every word with -ten in it.

One of every writer’s favorite words, document showed up in the early fifteenth century meaning teaching or instruction, and not meaning something written down until the early eighteenth century. It comes from the Old French document, lesson or written evidence, and classical Latin documentum, lesson or example. The verb form is docere, to teach, derived from the Proto Indo European dek-, which is… take or accept? What?

Parchment showed up in the fourteenth century as parchemin—no T??? Is this just one big coincidence? See, it’s from the Old French parchemin (no T there either), which was taken from the Late Latin pergamena, which just means parchment but has a freaking G in it now. Latin took the word from the Greek pergamenon, which means “of Pergamon”, referring to a city that’s now called Bergama in Turkey where parchments were supposedly first used in place of papyrus. And because English speakers confused it with the suffix -ment, now it has a T.

Damn it, English. You can’t just translate things properly, can you?



  1. It sure can't.
    In the early fifteenth century, very few people knew how to write, so it would have been all teaching and instruction.

  2. Tenement, and by extension tenant, are fairly straightforward.

  3. Did you make the ligament filament so we can tie up the document parchment to deliver to the tenement?

    Yeah, just couldn't get sediment in there.

  4. How often have words become just because of confusion? I know a lot. Because people are stupid so they mishear and then that mistake becomes canon.

    If you watch old movies, tenement was used to talk about buildings, not necessarily dilapidated ones. I found that progression quite fascinating.

  5. I think many, many words have morphed into being because of people being unable to pronounce them or mis-hearing. Not to mention the fact most people couldn't read or write until recently, so inevitably there would be different spellings of existing words when they were written down.


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