or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Last Sunday I wrote about the Latin "rogare", "to ask", and a reader asked me a very sensible question:

The word that came to my mind was "derogatory." How does that fit in?

"Derogatory" means "insulting" or "belittling", and it is difficult to see how this could have any connection with "rogare". But of course there is one. The answer to the question is that "rogare" had multiple shades of meaning, and that "derogatory" didn't always mean exactly what it means now.

"Rogare" does mean "to ask", but it also means "to question" (not quite the same thing in English) and "to propose (a law)". Consequently, the Latin verb "derogare", "rogare" prefixed by "de-", "away", likewise had a little clutch of meanings: "to minimize", "to detract from", "to modify", and "to partly repeal", the last two in a legal sense, which is the key to the evolution of the modern sense of "derogatory". Originally in English, back in the early 1500s, it meant "detracting from or diminishing one's legal rights"; not too long after that, it came to mean, as an obvious consequence of having one's legal rights taken away, "diminishing one's reputation or standing," which is the only thing it means now in common usage.


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