or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, December 23, 2005


I was reading something today which contained the word "depraved", and I thought, "Now, where on Earth can that have come from?" It seemed pretty likely to be Latin, but beyond that, I was stuck. The reason is that the Latin root doesn't seem to have left many traces in English: the only one I could find isn't completely confirmed, though the etymology seems pretty likely.

"Deprave" means "to debase or corrupt", from Latin "depravere", which is to say "de-" plus "pravus", "crooked". (The prefix, which so often in English denotes downwardness, as in "decline", or away-fromness, as in "devolve", seems here to be a simple intensifier; I can't make out what other function the prefix would have, to be honest.)

The only word I could find that seemed to be descended from "pravere" is, remarkably, "brave". This hardly seems possible, since bravery and depravity seem to lie on opposite ends of the behavioural spectrum, but "brave" originally meant something very different: first the Middle Latin noun "bravus", "cutthroat", and then Italian adjective "bravo", "savage", through which it mutated into the sense "brave or bold," which is the meaning we took in English when we adopted the word. This etymology is by no means fixed, and it's worth keeping in mind that it could be a folk etymology; the OED says "ulterior derivation uncertain".


Post a Comment

<< Home