Thursday, September 6, 2018

Language of Confusion: Flect

I got the idea for this one during the whole -leg thing. At least this one isn’t going to last forever. I hope.

Deflect showed up in the mid sixteenth century with pretty much the same meaning as today. It comes from the classical Latin deflectere, which could mean deflect ordetour, and it’s a mix of the prefix de-, away, and flectere, to bend. To bend away. Hey, it makes sense! A miracle!

Reflect showed up in the late fourteenth century meaning turn or bend back, then to divert or turn aside. It comes from the Old French reflecter, which is from the classical Latin reflectere, reflect or bend back. Which is literally what it meant. Re- means back and flectere is bend. But that’s not the end of the story.

Yes, reflex is from the same place. But where did that X come from? Reflex first showed up in the sixteenth century meaning a reflection of light, and it came from a verb form that meant refract or deflect—the whole body reflex thing didn’t come around until the nineteenth century, when it was called “reflex action.” The X apparently comes from Late Latin, where the word was reflexus, a bending back, a noun taken from the abovementioned reflectere. Weird how reflex used to refer to light, and now reflect is the one that mostly refers to light.

This word’s mixed up in here, too. Genuflect literally means “to bend the knee”, and it showed up in the seventeenth century, while genuflection showed up earlier, in the fifteenth century. It comes from the Middle French génuflexion and Medieval Latin genuflectionem, which is from genu flectere, to bend the knee. Because genu means knee in Latin. And seriously, any Game of Thrones references and you’re not invited to my word parties anymore.

Orbis Latinus


  1. Then I won't mention Game of Thrones...

  2. Genuflect is definitely not used much anymore.

    Deflect, on the other hand, is a standard tool in the repetoire of the unique subspecies homo sapiens politicius spinnicus doctorus.

    1. In some circles, genuflect is used all the time.
      It's part of the Catholic lexicon.

      Mmm... lexicon...

  3. I was actually going to make a Mean Girls reference, but now I don't know if I dare to...

  4. Well, a reflection in a mirror is a bouncing back of light from the reflecting surface, so, that kind of does make sense.

    But now I have Duran Duran's "The Reflex" stuck in my head. I feel like I'm back in high school...

  5. That all seems to make sense. It scares me a little when that happens...

  6. GoT! Yat Alex!

    It makes sense that they connect through history.


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