Thursday, May 13, 2021

Language Of Confusion: -Fect

Now, I actually did perfect along time ago, but for some reason never did any other words that ended in -fect. Chalk it up to me still figuring out how I wanted to do these. Anyway, we’re doing them now, as well as redoing perfect, of course.
Perfect showed up in the early fifteenth century, coming from the Middle English parfit, which means flawless or complete. It’s from the Old French parfit (yes, that’s where parfait comes from) and classical Latin perfectus, perfect, from the verb perficere, to complete. The prefix is from our old friend per, meaning completely, and the rest is from facere, to make or to do, from the Proto Indo European dhe-, to set or put. To perfect is to completely complete.
Now let’s finally get to the other -fect words. Infect showed up in the late fourteenth century, from the classical Latin infectus, which means infection… or incomplete. It’s from the verb inficere, to infect, or to stain—both literally and figuratively. The in- is from en and means in, and the rest is facere, to do. To infect is to do in, as in the sense that you were putting something in something to stain it. And from there we got infect.
Defect showed up in the early fifteenth century, not meaning to desert/revolt until the late sixteenth century. It comes from the Old French defect and classical Latin defectus, a defect or a desertion, from the verb deficere, to fail. De- means down or away, and with the rest meaning to do… defect is to do away. All right, this one’s a bit weirder than the others.
Affect showed up in the late fourteenth century, but it originally only meant a mental state, not meaning to make an impression on until the seventeenth century—though it did also mean to attack or to act on in the sixteenth century. The word is from the classical Latin affectus, affected, from afficere, which has a variety of meanings, including to do, to use, to act on, or to influence. The prefix is from ad-, to, so this word is really “to do to”.
Effect showed up in the mid fourteenth century, making it the earliest of these words, coming from the Old French efet and classical Latin effectus, which is just effect. Its verb form is efficiere, to effect or accomplish, a mix of ex-, out, and facere, making this word to make/do out. I guess that makes sense if you don’t think about it too much.
The finally word we’re looking at today may be the best one: confection. It showed up in the mid fourteenth century, coming from the Old French confeccion. That’s from the Medieval Latin confectionem, which means “making” in classical Latin, from the verb conficere, to complete. The con- means with, and facere means to do/make, so confection is to do/make with. So how did it get to mean sweets? Well, when it first showed up in English it meant anything made by mixing ingredients. But then it took on the definition of something made with sugar or syrup, and by the sixteenth century, it fully became meaning sweets.
And now I’m all hungry.
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
University of Texas at Arlington
Dictionary of Medieval Latin


  1. O, this is good fun. So many words ending in -fect. What about 'prefect'? Does it have any relation to 'perfect'? I was just wondering if a prefect always has to be perfect!
    My latest post: Stupid questions

  2. Interesting how such similar sounding words can have such wildly different origins.

  3. So, an infection is a stain, sort of. I rather like that.


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