or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Before and After

I was writing Friday's blog posting yesterday (I like to plan ahead) and intending to use the word "redux" in the title and as usual I got side-tracked by the fact that I don't even know where "redux" comes from, and so I looked it up on Answers.com and discovered a very nice word that I won't get to use often, though I'm glad it exists: "postpositively".

I had to puzzle over it for a few seconds, but the I realized what the word was telling me. We have a class of words in English called "prepositions", which is placed after a verb but before another word to link the two (usually the subject of the sentence): in the phrase "go after someone", "after" is a preposition. (This is the reason for the supposed rule that you may never end a sentence with a preposition: the "pre-" prefix means it has to go before something, and if you put it at the end, there's nothing for it to go before. I don't think I even need to tell you that this is nonsense, and if the sound and the sense are preserved or improved, you may put a preposition at the end of the sentence, or wherever else you like.)

There are also words known as "postpositions", which go after the subject, and "redux" is just such a word: the elongated 2001 director's cut of "Apocalypse Now" was called "Apocalypse Now Redux", which is exactly how the word is used. So "redux", we learn, is "used postpositively", and that word means "used in the manner of a postposition". Isn't that great?

"Redux", by the way, has a most interesting etymology, one which it might be hard to guess. (I know I couldn't put my finger on it.) The "re-" prefix in this case means "again", unsurprisingly: it's the "-dux" that can lead you astray. You'd almost think it had to be related to one of the "-duce" or "-duct" words such as "deduce" or "abduct", but that, of course, doesn't make any sense.

Except that it does: both those words are related, and "redux" is related to both of them. Funny how English etymology leads you around in circles sometimes.

The source of "deduce" is Latin "ducere", "to lead", because a deduction leads to a solution. Once you know this, you can immediately guess that "abduct" has the same root, because it means "to lead away". And "redux", which means "brought back", literally means "led (in) again".

"Redux" actually comes to us at one remove, because it's not immediately descended from "ducere" but from its offspring "dux", which means "leader", and therefore is also the source of the English word "duke".


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