or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


In this news story about the dreadful but predictable death of Steve Irwin by untamed beast is the following sentence:

"The strongly serrated barb is capable of tearing and rendering flesh," said Dr Bryan Fry, deputy director of the Australian Venom Research Unit.


"Render" has at least two possible meanings in reference to flesh, and not one of them is what the doctor ordered. It means "to depict" or "to represent" in artistic terms, and it also means "to melt down for its fat" in culinary terms. All meanings of "render" come from the French "rendre", "to give back", and a moment's thought will suggest how either of these meanings descended from the original word.

What the doctor was looking for was "rend", which shares no point of contact with "render"; it's Anglo-Saxon and it means "to tear" or "to split apart".

Amusingly, "rent" exists twice in English, and one derives from "rend" while the other is from "render". One is the irregular past tense of "rend", meaning "torn asunder", and the other is the sense of "regular payment for use of another's property", which is from Middle English "rente", taken whole from the French.


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