Thursday, January 10, 2019

Language of Confusion: Get Rect, Part I

This week we’re going to start looking at words with rect in them, either as a prefix or a suffix. And boy, are there a lot of them.

The origin for all these rect- words is the Proto Indo European root reg-, which means “move in a straight line”. That’s going to make a lot of sense for some of these words. And a lot less sense in others.

Rectangle showed up in the mid-late sixteenth century from the Middle French rectangle and Late Latin rectangulum. The rect- comes from the classical Latin rectus, which could mean things like correct, upright, straight, and righteous and the rest of course is the origin of angle. In Medieval Latin rectangulum meant a triangle that had a right angle, so as you can see things have changed a bit.

Now let’s look at something less literal. Rectify showed up in the fifteenth century from the Old French rectifier, to make straight. It comes from the Late Latin rectificare, to make right, and rectus, The -ficare part from rectificare comes from facere, to make, so rectify, to make straight. How sensible.

Correct first showed up in the mid fourteenth century meaning to set someone right by punishing them for an error, and then later in the century meaning to bring a text “into accordance with a standard or original”. It comes from the classical Latin correctus, reformed or a reformed person, which is from the verb corrigere, tocorrect, put straight, set right. The prefix is from com- and is thought to be intensive here, and the rest is from regere, to rule, set straight, guide. To really set something straight is to correct it.

Direct showed up in the late fourteenth century as directen, meaning to write a letter to someone or to point out a course. Its history is similar to correct, and it’s from the classical Latin directus, which could mean direct, success, or straight. The di- is from dis-, apart, which means this word, combined with regere is to set straight apart? I’m really lost on this one.

Now it’s time for the words that will make everyone giggle. Erect also showed up in the late fourteenth century, from the Latin erectus, upright, from the verb erigere, to lift up or set up, and it’s the e- that gives the up part, although it’s I don’t think a common prefix. Then there’s rectum. It didn’t show up until the early fifteenth century, coming from the Latin phrase intestinum rectum, which means straight intestine. Seriously, rectum just means straight or right. It was taken from a Greek phrase, apeuthysmeon enteron, rectal intestine. It was so called by Galen of Pergamum, a Greek physician, for the lowest part of the large intestine in animals. Because apparently some animals had intestines which were straight when compared to humans.




  1. Someone set those organs straight I guess.
    Yes, the other word did come to mind.
    To my credit, rectify was second. Rectifier is a cool song by a band called RA.

  2. I assumed rectum and erect would fit in here somewhere.

  3. Hmm... too busy today to think of anything for this.
    Which is unfortunate.
    Wait... You know how there's a "straight man" in a comedy duo...

  4. I just really like the word rectangulum.


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