Thursday, November 10, 2022

Language Of Confusion: Red-, Part II

Once again, we’re looking at words descended from the Proto Indo European root red-, which means to scrape, scratch, or gnaw. Most of these make sense, at least.
First we’re going to look at raze, which is basically the origin point of a lot of the words today. It showed up in the mid sixteenth century from the defunct words racen and rasen (they didn’t care so much about spelling back then). It’s from the Old French raser and Medieval Latin rasare, which is from the classical Latin radere, which we talked about last week as meaning to shave, and that’s from red-. Though some people actually think radere might not be from red-, even though they look similar and mean pretty much the same thing, and I can’t even say that’s a crazy idea because word origins can be very, very stupid.
Razor of course is similar in origin. It showed up in the fourteenth century, meaning it’s older than raze, from the Old French razor/raseor, which is from the abovementioned raser, and so has the same origin beyond that. Weird how raze means to completely wipe things away like demolition, while a razor is generally something you use to remove hair.

Next is abrasion, which is pretty close to corrosion and erosion. It showed up in the mid seventeenth century (with abrasive not until 1805), coming from the Medieval Latin abrasionem, which is from the classical Latin abradere, to scrape away. Radere should be obvious by now, and ab- means away or off. To abrade is to scrape away, and an abrasion is something scraped away!
This one is kind of obvious when you think about it: erase. It showed up in the seventeenth century from the classical Latin erasus, erased. That’s from eradere, to eradicate (BTW though it makes sense, eradicate is not related to these words at all), or more literally to scrape off. The prefix here is from ex-, out, and the rest is from radere, so when you’re erasing something, you’re scraping it all out.
Finally today, the word that will probably make the least sense. Rascal showed up in the mid fourteenth century as rascaile, meaning someone of the lowest class or the foot soldiers of an army, as well as a tricky or dishonest person. It’s from the Old French rascaille, rabble or mob, and its origin before that is kind of a mystery, but it might be from the Old French rascler, from the Vulgar Latin rasicare, to scrape, which you might remember being the origin for rash. The thought process is that things that are scraped off, “the scrapings” are the lowest level of society, the rabble, the rascals. Don’t dismiss it when far stupider etymologies are true.
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
Encyclopaedia Britannica


  1. When most people couldn't read, and there was no spellcheck, any spelling would do, I imagine. Did they even have dictionaries back then? Those were a more enlightenment invention, weren't they?

  2. I don't think 'rascal' is too much of a stretch. The scrapings of society thing makes sense to me.


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