Thursday, July 12, 2018

Language of Confusion: -Cise, Part I

Not a big huge series this time, just a two-parter. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, like a bunch of new words being added to the dictionary next week.

Precise first showed up in the mid fifteenth century from the Middle French precis, condensed or cut short. French took it from the Medieval Latin precisus and classical Latin praecisus, cut off or abridged, from the verb praecidere, to cut off. The pre- means before, and the -cidere comes from caedere, hack or cut, which can be traced back to the Proto Indo European kae-id-, to strike. Plus there’s also imprecise, which showed up in 1804 and is a mix of in, opposite, and precise, so it’s just the opposite of precise.

Decisive showed up in the early seventeenth century, coming from the Medieval Latin decisivus and classical Latin decis, from the verb decidere, which could mean decide or also drop or fall off. The word decide showed up much earlier than decisive, having been here since the late fourteenth century by way of the Old French decider. But it too comes from  decider, which is a mix of de-, off, and caedere, to cut. Cut off, drop off…decide?

Concise showed up in the late sixteenth century from the classical Latin concisus, cutshort or brief. Here the con- comes from com-, which is only thought to be intensive here , so mixed with the caedere it’s to really cut. I guess that’s being  concise.

Excise showed up in the late fifteenth century meaning a tax on goods and not to cut something out until a century later. Which is kind of weird considering that’s what the Latin version of the word means. Excisus and the verb form excidere, mean, respectively, cut and drop, fall, or prune a mix of ex-, out, and caedere). So why do we have an excise tax? Because the tax was originally the Middle Dutch excijs/accijs, which means tax, and somehow got mixed up with excise. That might be the stupidest origin for a word I’ve ever heard.



  1. So precise is a longer way of saying cut short? Sometimes English just makes no sense..

  2. Ironically if you look up the word precise, all the definitions mean exact, specific, etc. rather than anything to do with cut off.

  3. Concise and excise- how often do we use them?

  4. The stupidest origin for a word? Oh, really? I kind of doubt that.

    And precis makes me think of a rhetorical precis which is something they're making the high school kiddos do nowadays.

  5. I'm not clear: Do these all have a Latin root cise that mean to cut?


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