Thursday, March 10, 2022

Language Of Confusion: -Spire, Redux, Part II

And now the thrilling conclusion!
Conspire showed up in the late fourteenth century from the Old French conspirer, and before that the classical Latin conspirare, to cooperate. As I’m sure you all remember from last week (aren’t you taking notes?), spirare means to breathe and is the origin word of spirit. The con- prefix means together, so to conspire means… to breathe together. That weirdly makes sense to me.
Expire—well, I can already predict this one, what with ex- being kind of obvious, but let’s see if I’m right. Expire showed up in the fifteenth century, coming from the Old French expirer and classical Latin exspirare, which just means to expire and was also spelled without the S in there because it’s kind of redundant with the X. Spirere means to breathe, ex- means out, so to expire is to breathe out. And, you know, never breathe in again.
Next, inspire showed up in the mid fourteenth century actually spelled enspiren. It comes from the Old French enspirer and classical Latin inspirare, which could mean inspire or its more literal definition of to breathe into. In/En- means in, so… Well, do I need to draw you a map? These are all refreshingly straightforward.
Finally, transpire. It showed up relatively late, in the late sixteenth century, where it meant… to pass off in the form of a vapor or liquid. Hm. Well, that’s certainly different. Apparently in 1741 it started to mean to leak out, both literally and figuratively, and then in 1755 it for some reason started to mean to take place or happen. The vapor passing through definition does make sense since trans- means across, beyond, or on the other side, so with to breathe, it’s like to breathe across something—vapor or liquid passing across. And now it somehow means to happen. Whose dumb idea was that?
Online Etymology Dictionary
Google Translate
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center


  1. I'm pretty sure I am not one who inspires.

  2. Psst... Check you last paragraph. First sentence.

  3. I liked that connection between Spirere and Expire ... Makes sense!

  4. I always find it interesting to read about the origin of words!


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