Thursday, June 23, 2022

Language Of Confusion: -Fer, Redux, Part III

The last in this series that I’ve actually done before. Plus a couple that are possibly new. I’m way too lazy to double check, though. In any case, all words come from the Proto Indo European bher-, to carry.
First, indifferent. We already looked at the weirdness that is differ, and now we’re going to see why putting in- in front of it makes it so different from the not alike definition of differ. It showed up in the late fourteenth century—indifference showed up a bit later, in the mid fifteenth century—meaning impartial when it referred to people, and alike or equal when referring to things. In other words, the opposite of differ, with the in- prefix meaning notor opposite of. Apparently, two things being alike means there’s no preference for one or the other, which means you’re neutral towards them. Eh, less weird than differ.
Next, circumference showed up in the late fourteenth century from the classical Latin circumferentia, circumference. It’s from circumferre, to carry around, a mix of the prefix circum-, around in Latin, and ferre, to carry or bear. They really didn’t bother changing much with this one.
Vociferous showed up in the early seventeenth century, well after vociferation in the fifteenth century even though I didn’t realize that was a word. The words are both from the classical Latin vociferari, to shout, which is a mix of vox (voice) and ferre. To carry a voice. Has anyone even used vociferous lately?
Maybe proliferate will be more interesting. It showed up rather recently, in 1857, as a term in biology. It comes from the French prolifération, which is just proliferation, and that is actually a mix of the classical Latin proles, offspring, and ferre. So proliferation is to carry or bear offspring. Nope, not more interesting.
In that vein, there’s fertile, which shoed up in the mid fifteenth century from the Old French fertil and classical Latin fertilis, which means fertile or productive.  And that’s from ferre and so bher-. Man, how did this week turn out even more boring than last week?
So that’s the end of the -fer redux words. There are actually a ton more words related to bher-, but I think I’ll take a break from them and look at something else for a while. I’ll get to them eventually!
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. It's a little boring when it all makes perfect sense.

  2. There's no reason your part 4 needs to directly follow part 3.

  3. Vociferous is one of those proverbial 25 dollar words nobody uses.


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