Thursday, January 14, 2021

Language Of Confusion: Tend, Part II

More tend words! As you’ll recall from last week (as I assume you all have my posts memorized), tend comes from the Proto Indo European ten-, which means stretch. And, well, that definition has been stretched to a lot of meanings.
Pretend showed up in the late fourteenth century as pretenden, meaning to profess or make a claim. It was from there it morphed into meaning to make a false claim and the pretend we know today. The word is from the Old French pretendre, from the classical Latin praetendere, to excuse. Yeah. Now obviously, excuse wasn’t the only definition, just the main one. It also meant to stretch in front of, spread before, or to put forward—as an excuse. It’s a mix of the prefix prae-, before, and tendere, to stretch, and that’s from the PIE ten-. To pretend is to stretch before. Sure, why not?
Contend showed up in the mid fifteenth century from the Old French contendre and classical Latin contendere, contend. In other words, it’s origin is pretty much the same as pretend. But in addition to meaning contend in Latin, it also meant to stretch out, to throw, or to strive for, which is how it got to mean, well, contend. It’s a mix of the prefix com-, which is thought to be just intensive here, and tendere. To contend is to really stretch something.
Next, intend showed up in the fourteenth century as entenden, and it meant to pay attention to something before meaning to have a purpose for something. It’s from the Old French entendre, from the classical Latin intendere, to concentrate on something. The in- means toward, and with tendere means the word is to stretch towards… Yeah, I can see it.
Now we’ll get into some words with more literal meanings. Kind of. Extend showed up in the early fourteenth century, but back then it meant to value or assess, meaning it was actually way more figurative before it came to mean lengthen/straighten. It’s from the Old French estendre and classical Latin extendere, to extend, with ex- meaning out. To extend is to stretch out. I can’t believe the word has actually only become more literal over the years.
Finally, distend. It showed up in the fifteenth century and unlike the rest of the words here, meant the same thing as it does today. It comes from the classical Latin distendere, to distend, with dis- meaning apart here. To distend is to stretch apart. How impressively unchanging it’s been over the years.
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


  1. Extend meant to value something? Definitely not a meaning we use today.

  2. It's funny how many of these root words that have been used in so many things have original meanings that... You know, I don't know where I was going with this sentence. Words are weird, and we'll leave it at that.

  3. Wait a minute. -tend means to stretch? And distend means... to stretch.

  4. The evolution of the meaning of contend is interesting.


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