What a tumultuous week. Normally, the week featuring the World Series is enough excitement for one person to experience, but with indictments from the Mueller investigation into the Republican presidential campaign, a terrorist attack involving a truck in New York City and John Kelly’s horribly misinformed comments about the Civil War, the harvest joy of Halloween is overshadowed.
But the big word this week just might be compromise: Kelly’s implication that the Civil War occurred because the North could not compromise with the South, despite the numerous attempts at compromise, including policies that even included the word compromise, such as the three-fifths compromise and the Missouri Compromise (later repealed by another compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act).
Fun Fact: The broker of the Missouri Compromise, then-Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky, is a relatively close ancestor of mine (some sort of great-ish uncle). Clay founded the American Colonization Society, an attempt to re-colonize free American blacks in West Africa, leading to the creation of Liberia – yet another compromise.
Clay was a master compromiser, although it has been argued by historians that his compromises merely delayed the inevitable, that the country was headed toward civil war regardless of any compromise.
He was not a good presidential candidate, though. He ran several times, always losing. C’est la vie.
Compromise came from the Middle French compromis, which puts its entrance into English around the 15th century. It derives from the Latin compromissus, meaning to make a mutual promise.
The prefix com- means together, and I think I’ve written about promise before: a combination of the prefix per-, meaning forward, and mittere, from which we get the word mission.
So compromise was a coming together to guarantee that something will get done in the future. A prognosticated assurance.
By the late 15th century, the word had come to mean a sense of coming to terms, like a negotiation.
One thing that’s difficult to negotiate is an indictment, as we’ve seen this week as members of Trump’s presidential campaign and advisors have been taken in by the FBI for conspiracy against the United States among other counts.
Indict has a relatively concise etymology, too. In Middle English (around the 13th century) it was spelled either indict or endict, and meant to bring formal charges against someone, usually in writing. It comes from the Old French enditier, meaning to dictate or write.
The root is found in Vulgar Latin (Latin that was spoken, not written, in various dialects as the Romance language spread through Europe during the Middle Ages) as the word indictare, which meant to accuse or proclaim in writing.
The base word dictare eventually becomes the word dictate. The Proto-Indo-European root of dictare is deik, meaning to show or pronounce solemnly. This root was used to describe language for official purposes, and not for everyday speech.
Middle English speakers would have pronounced the c in indict, but as French integrated its way into English life, they adopted the French pronunciation and spelling, which did not include the hard c.
Then, in the early 17th century, for some reason, perhaps as a backlash to French, the English re-Latinized the spelling of some words like indict, but kept the French pronunciation.
They likely kept the French pronunciation so as not to confuse it with other similar Latin word indictus, which meant not said or unsaid (the prefix in- in this case meant not), and indicare, from which we get the word indicate, meaning to point out.
This is probably why we pronounce the c in dictate, but not in indict.
But really, most of my week has been in preparation for a play that will be performed this weekend at the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium: “It Happens Every Summer.” (Shameless self-promotion here.)
It’s a funny romantic comedy with a huge cross-generational cast and takes place in a Manhattan magazine office in 1962. If you like the old rom-coms featuring Doris Day, Sandra Dee and Rock Hudson, then you’ll love this show. It’s guaranteed to make you laugh.
Laugh is from an Old English word, spelled hlaehhan, from the Proto-Germanic klakhjan.
Its PIE root, kleg, is found in many languages: Latin cachinnare (laugh aloud), Sanskrit’s kakhati (laughs), and even Lithuanian’s klageti (cackle), among many others.
Originally, it was pronounced with the hard gh sound (like the Scottish loch), but switched to the f sound in Middle English. There’s a longer story there for another column, but for now, the cast hopes to bring you a barrel of laughs this weekend.