Thursday, January 7, 2021

Language Of Confusion: -Tend, Part I

First etymology post of the new year! Whoo! This is another one of those ones I can’t believe I haven’t done before. Words with tend in them aren’t uncommon, and yet is somehow never occurred to me to look at it. I have however looked at other words the prefix is related to, namely those that end in -tain. But that was a while ago anyway, so it’ll be all brand new for you.
First of course we’re looking at tend. It showed up in the early fourteenth century, coming from the Old French tendre, which means to stretch out, hold forth, or hand over. Yeah, I’m not getting the logic there. Tendre is from the classical Latin tendere, to stretch, make tense, aim or direct something, from the Proto Indo European ten-, to stretch. So, I guess the English definition of to incline in a certain way comes from this. These days, we mostly use tend in the sense of tending to something. Weirdly enough, that one is actually a shortened form of attend. Even weirder, it showed up before the other tend, sometime in the thirteenth century.
Now we’re obviously looking at attend. It showed up in the fourteenth century, though back then it meant either to be subject to or “to direct one’s minds or energies”. The to take care of definition showed up a little after that in  the mid fourteenth century, and then it became to pay attention, or render service to someone. Attend is from the Old French atendre, to expect, wait for, or pay attention, from the classical Latin attendere, to pay attention. The at- is from ad, to, and with tendere, to stretch, the word literally means to stretch to. Apparently it was supposed to be metaphorical, like stretching your mind to something is giving it attention. I guess that makes sense.
Let’s go in a different direction and look at words that begin with tend. Tender has a couple of different definitions, one being to offer formally (including the term legal tender) and the other meaning easily injured. The latter is the earlier definition, showing up in the early thirteenth century, while the formal one came from that in the mid sixteenth century, though I have no idea why. The word is from the Old French tendre, which unlike the above tendre means soft, delicate, or young here. That of course is from the classical Latin tener, which means young or soft, which is from the PIE ten-, to stretch. Apparently stretch made them think of thin, which made them think of weak, hence soft and young.
Tendency showed up in the mid seventeenth century, making it the youngest word here. Tender, if you would. It comes from the Medieval Latin tendentia, inclination or leaning, from the classical Latin tendens, stretching, which is from tendere. Meaning tendency is actually related to tend more closely than tender is.
Finally today, tendon. It showed up in the mid sixteenth century from the Medieval Latin tendonem, from the Late Latin tenon, which is from the Greek tenon, which means tendon. It’s from the Proto Indo European ten-on-, something stretched, from ten-, to stretch. And because the Greeks did a lot of studying on anatomy, they were the ones who named everything.
Online Etymology Dictionary
Google Translate
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
Dictionary of Medieval Latin
Orbis Latinus
National Library of Medicine


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