Thursday, January 26, 2023

Language Of Confusion: Verse, Part IV

Back to the words that come from the Proto Indo European wer-to turn or bend. This week, more -vert/-verse words, some vert- words, and a bonus not vert word. Yay?
First, reverse and revert. Both showed up in the fourteenth century, with reverse coming from the Old French revers and revert (originally meaning to recover from illness) from the Anglo French reverter and Old French revertir. That can be traced to the Vulgar Latin revertire, from the classical Latin revertere, to return, while revers is from the Latin reversus, also from revertere. Vertere, as I’ve mentioned the previous weeks, means to turn, as it is from wer-. With the re- prefix meaning back, it’s to turn back. Fairly sensible.
Subvert of course has a very similar story. It showed up in the late fourteenth century meaning to raze, destroy, or overturn. It’s from the Old French subverir and classical Latin subvertere, to subvert or overturn. Sub- means under, so subverting is turning under something, apparently. And there’s really not much different with perverse and pervert either. Both showed up in the late fourteenth century, from the Old French pervers and pervertir, from the classical Latin verb pervertere, to pervert or corrupt. The per- is from the preposition per and means away here. Perverting something is turning it away.
Now it’s finally time for something different. Vertebra—as in your spine. It showed up in the early fifteenth century (vertebrate not until 1826), and it’s thought to be from vertere as well, with the idea that the spine is the “hinge” of the body. Plus there’s vertigo, which also showed up in the early fifteenth century, literally meaning “I am dizzy” in Latin. The verb is from vertere, because when you’re dizzy, you feel like you’re turning.
Finally today, reverberate showed up in the late sixteenth century, meaning to beat or drive back, then shortly after began to be used in relation to sound or noise. Reverberation showed up earlier, in the late fourteenth century, and originally it meant a flash of light or repercussion of air, not meaning an echo until the mid seventeenth century. It’s from the Old French reverberacion, Medieval Latin reverberationem, and the classical Latin verb reverberare, to reverberate, which is also where just plain reverberate comes from. The re- is the easy part, it just means back. Verberare means to beat or strike, related to verbena, a beating, and that is from wer- as well. So because sound turns back in an echo, we have reverberation.
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
Fordham University


  1. So many verse words.
    You could make your own crossword puzzle game with these etymology words.

  2. Vertigo literally means "I am dizzy"? I really, really like that. I like that way more than is reasonable.


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