Thursday, June 27, 2019

Language of Confusion: Whatever The Case May Be, Part IV

Finally. Now that we have one case done, it’s time to look at the other. If you don’t remember (and why would you? It was a month ago), the case that means situation has a completely different origin than the case that means container. Now that we’ve looked at words relating to the former, time to look at those related to the latter.

Strap in. It’s going to take a while.

Container case comes from the Proto Indo European word kap-, meaning to grasp, take, or hold. You hold a case, so I guess that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is the multitude of words descending from it.

First of all, words ending in -ceive? All related. Receive showed up in the fourteenth century from the Old North French recievre, seize, take hold of, or accept. It’s from the classical Latin recipere, which is really just receive. The re- means back, and the -cipere is from capere, to take or capture. Receipt, also from the same place, although the Old North French equivalent is receite, so they dropped the P that we for some reason put back in, if silently. And of course there’s recipe, which didn’t show up until the late sixteenth century, and back then it only meant a medical prescription. It’s from the Middle French récipé, and classical Latin recipe, which means recipe or take. It had nothing to do with food until 1743, and no, I don’t know what caused that to change. The original sense only survives in the term Rx, so now you know why prescriptions are called Rx.

Not entirely out of the blue, but we’ve only just started. Conceive showed up in the late thirteenth century as conceiven, to become pregnant, and not meaning an idea until the late fourteenth century. It’s from the Old French conceveir and classical Latin concipere, to conceive in the pregnancy sense. The con- is thought to be intensive here, and the rest comes from capere. So it’s to really take. The whole pregnancy thing came from the idea of a woman “taking in the seed” of life, but I’m not really sure where the idea notion came from (although it did have that figurative notion in French and Latin). You don’t take in an idea… Do you???

Perceive showed up in the thirteenth century from the Anglo French parceif and Old North French perceivre, perceive. It’s from the classical Latin percipere, also just perceive, with the per- from per, as in the preposition, in this sense meaning “by means of”, and in this case meaning thoroughly. Perceiving something is taking it thoroughly!

Finally today, deceive showed up in the fourteenth century from the Old French decevoir and classical Latin decipere, which would mean something like deceive or ensnare. The de- means from (or possibly is pejorative), so the word is to take from, in a negative sense.

Whew. And we’ve barely scratched the surface of these words.



  1. These days I don't take in a lot of ideas...

  2. Recipe kind of makes sense. Who wrote down how to make food before a certain point? How many could read such things? But those who made concoctions to cure would have been educated. I could be totally wrong about this, however.

  3. So interesting how many different places these seemingly related words can come from.


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