Thursday, February 7, 2019

Language of Confusion: Get -Rect, Part V

This week, in the last of this series, we’re looking at the -rect words that you probably wouldn’t think are related to the Proto Indo European origin word of reg-, which means move in a straight line, but somehow are. Because that’s how stupid words are.

Rack showed up in the fourteenth century and is thought to be from the Middle Dutch rec, framework. It’s related to the Old English reccan, to stretch out (and that’s actually the first appearance of Old English in all four parts of this series), which comes from the Proto Germanic rak-, which is from reg-. I guess a rack usually has straight lines…

Rake comes from the Old English raca, rake, which is from the Proto Germanic rak-, although I can’t actually be sure that it’s the same rak as in the rak origin. I mean, they’re spelled the same, but you know how words are sometimes. In any case, here rak- means “heap up”, which is a good definition of raking. But although it comes from reg-, I’m not sure I get the relation to direct lines. Some people seem to think it’s because rakes are made with straight pieces of wood. And speaking of straight pieces of wood, rail is also related. It showed up in the fourteenth century from the Old French reille, bolt or bar, from the Vulgar Latin regla and classical Latin regula, rule. No idea why we dropped the G there. I blame French. They had a habit of spelling words based on the Latin in spite of pronouncing them completely different.

Reckless comes from the Old English receleas, reckless or careless, and is just a mix of reck (which was a word, even if it’s not anymore) and less. Reck comes from the Old English reccan, which means something like to take notice of or pay attention to. Um, it’s a different definition than the other reccan I’ve mentioned here. This one is actually from the West Germanic rokjan and Proto Germanic rokja, which can then be traced from reg-. So it means paying attention to something, with the -less meaning lacking/does not. Nope, no idea how you get from “straight line” to that. Because keeping something straight is careful??

And now, source. Yes, really. Source showed up in the mid fourteenth century meaning support or base, coming from the Old French sourse, rising or beginning, from the sense of a fountainhead of a river. That’s from the classical Latin surgere, to rise, which is actually a combination of sub-, up from below, and regere, which I’ve mentioned several times in this series as meaning to rule, or keep straight. And that keep straight is of course from reg-. So it’s to go straight/rule up from below? I guess it’s because of the fountainhead thing. The crazy journey of this one kind of makes sense.

And that’s it for -rect words. These are far from the only words that come from reg-, but it feels like these are the ones that we use the most. I’m sure I’ll get to the others. At some point.

Sources (ha!)
Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. Reckless is not keeping straight, but source is an odd one all right.

  2. So how does rake also mean someone who is a dressed up scoundrel? Is it because he doesn't walk the straight and narrow? Or because his clothes need to be perfectly straight? Words are confusing...

  3. I have to wonder if some of these changed meanings over the years. Like, it was used more for straight, but then someone used it in a slightly different way... Hey, it makes as much sense as anything.

  4. I think Kate's notion of a rake is more of a recent one, as it refers to a womanizer. There's a television show out there with that word as its title, and it stars Richard Roxburgh.

    Rack as stretch out fits, as a rack was a torture device.

  5. I guess a rack of ribs has straight lines, too?


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