Precision Incision

C.J. nudged me. “Look at how this artist, Samira Yamin, has cut into newspaper and magazine articles. It’s like she’s turning parts of these scenes of war and destruction into lace. I don’t know what it means, maybe something about what we miss, what we don’t see.”

“Well, she’s made me look longer at these images than I normally would. Maybe that’s her intension.”

“Anyway, that’s some precision incision. Okay, Lexie. Are those words related?”

“Yep. Etymologically they both have to do with cutting. Precise came into late Middle English from Old French prescis, which came from Latin praecis- ‘cut short.’ Praecis- derives from the verb praecidere: prae-‘in advance’ + caedere ‘to cut.’ And, as you might guess, incise came from Latin via French: in- meaning ‘into’ + caedere.

“The meaning of precise seems to have evolved as it worked its way from classical Latin and Old French and Middle English, from ‘in an abbreviated manner’ to ‘fixed, clearly determined, exact, well-defined, expressed clearly, without superfluity.’”

“Hmm. Those incisions are well defined, literally, but their meaning is not clearly expressed. “

“I like art that retains some mystery,” I said. Speaking of mysteries, I was still wondering what C.J., or whatever his real name was, was up to.

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Lexie Kahn: Word Snooper is a blog about words and their origins at WordSnooper.com.
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