or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, October 29, 2005


Because English words are derived from such an amazing array of sources, we can easily be led astray by words that look like one thing but have their genesis in another.

"Mis-" is a prefix that nearly always means something bad or wrong: "misogyny", for example, "a hatred of women", or "misdeed", "a wrong act". So it's natural that some people in the past have assumed that "miscegenation", which is to say interracial marriage, has a name that brands it as inherently wrong. But in fact there is a small cluster of words in English that look as if they ought to begin with "mis-" but in fact begin with something else entirely, and that is "misc-".

The prefix "misc-" comes from Latin "miscere", "to mix". From it we get such words as "miscellaneous" and "miscellany" (mixtures of things), "miscible" (just another way of spelling "mixable"), and "miscegenation", which, being from Latin "miscere" plus "genus", "race", means "race-mixing".

If you see a word beginning with "misc-", it belongs to one of these two families. If the "mis-" comes off and leaves an intact word ("miscue", "miscarriage"), it belongs to the "mis-" family; otherwise, it's a descendent of "miscere". (Of course, English being English, there has to be an exception: "miscreant", which is from "mis-" plus "credere", "to believe"; a miscreant originally was a heretic, and the word now has the once-removed meaning "evildoer".)


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