Thursday, June 30, 2022

Language Of Confusion: Vest

This one of those words that shows up in kind of weird places. Vest has two definition, the garment you put on and the one you really only see when people say “vested”, as in having a vested interest in something. Could they possibly be related? Somehow, yes.
Vest the garment showed up in the early seventeenth century, but the other vest, to put in possession of a person, showed up two centuries before that. The two words actually diverged for a while, as the garment comes from the French veste, jacket, from the Italian vesta, a dress or robe. The other vest comes from the Old French vestir, which actually means to clothe—I guess they figured you’re only clothed in something that you’re in possession of—and that’s from the Medieval Latin vestire, from the classical Latin vestire, to clothe. And that’s where veste/vesta are from, too, and they can be traced even farther back to the Proto Indo European wes-ti, from wes-, to clothe, from eu-, to dress.
Weird, right? Most words that begin with vest—like vestibule or vestige—aren’t related at all. The only words beginning with vest that are related are vestment, like a priest wears, and vestry, aroom for garments. You know, where the vestments go. But words with vest in them are another matter.
Invest showed up in the late fourteenth century, making it older than either vest, although when it showed up it actually meant “to clothe in the official robes of an office” which we clearly don’t use it as anymore. It actually didn’t start meaning invest money until the early seventeenth century, where it was used in relation to the East Indies in the sense that someone’s capital was given a new form, i.e. dressed up in something new. It comes from the classical Latin investire, to clothe in. The in- is from en (in), plus vestire. To dress in, very self-explanatory, except for the part about dressing your money up in something new.
Then there’s divest, which showed up in the mid sixteenth century, though back then it was spelled devest. Now, divest means to strip something away, generally property and possessions. It comes from the French devester, undress, a mix of dis-, away, and vestir from the Old French, which we already know means to clothe. So to divest is to unclothe. More figurative than literal, but nothing too crazy here.
Let’s look at one of my favorite words: travesty. It showed up in the late seventeenth century meaning a “literary burlesque of a serious work”, so I guess something like a parody. It’s used pretty much the same way today, just in a more general sense. It comes from the French travesti, from travestir, to disguise, a mix of trans-, across or beyond, and vestire, to clothe. You’re in clothing, but as something else. And that gave us travesty.
Finally today, the vest word that is not a vest word. Wear comes from the Old English werian, to wear or clothe. It comes from the Proto Germanic wasin, from the Proto Indo European wos-eyo, which is from wes- and eu-. So wear is from the same place as vest, only through Germanic rather than Latin, and fun fact, to wear down is from the fact that clothes wear out.
This was certainly much weirder than last week.


  1. Talking money in terms of clothing is quite the interesting leap.

  2. Travesty is a word that can be highly applicable.


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