Thursday, April 15, 2021

Language Of Confusion: Strict, Redux

Yeah, doing another one of these. I have a lot of old posts that irk me.
Strict, without any prefixes, showed up in the early fifteenth century, where it meant narrow or small. Its meaning shifted when it started to be used in a legal sense—a narrow reading of the law became a strict reading of it, and from there it came into common usage that way. Strict comes from the classical Latin strictus, which means narrow, coming from the verb stringere, to draw tightly, and before that the Proto Indo European streig-, to rub or press. And that’s actually the origin word for strain, which showed up in the fourteenth century from stringere (by way of the Old French estreindre). It first meant to tie or fasten as well as to put through a filter, then to tighten or make taut, and then overexert yourself, then to exert something to its limit. Yeah, quite a journey on that one, although it does make sense.
Constrict showed up fairly late, in 1732, though constriction actually showed up in the fifteenth century, while constrain actually showed up much earlier, in the early fourteenth century. Actually, constrict actually comes from constriction, which is from the classical Latin constrictionem, restraint, from constringere, to tighten. And that word is where constrain comes from, too. The con- means together, and stringere is to tie. Constrict is to tie tight. And so is constrain.
Restrict showed up in the early sixteenth century, about the same time as restriction did. The words come from the Late Latin restrictionem, which is from the classical Latin restringere, to restrict. Restrain showed up earlier, in the mid fourteenth century, also from restringere. Not really a lot changed about these words. Anyway, the re- means back, so to restrict/restrain is to tie back.
Finally today, district. It showed up in the early seventeenth century, meaning a territory, from the French district and Medieval Latin districtus. That comes from the classical Latin distringere, which actually means distrain, which I didn’t know was even a word, but it is, and it means to seize someone’s property if they owe you a debt, a bit like a lien, I guess. The dis- means apart here, so the word literally means to draw apart. No, I don’t understand it in the least, but that’s how it is.
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


  1. Very interesting origins for district!

  2. It's funny how something so simple morphs into a way more complex word or group of words.

  3. The early meanings of 'strict' was an absolute revelation. I can relate to 'restrict' meaning narrow. But 'strict' having that meaning, was a surprise indeed.


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