Lexie Kahn Gives a Damn

The check arrived – a tidy sum that would have kept me in chicken salad sandwiches and Frappuccinos for a month. Ms. Khan plunked down a credit card from her boss lady’s eponymous foundation. Well, the trustees weren’t going to question this expenditure. Rumor has it the director is like a mother to them; in fact, she is their mother.

“So if that odd word contemn is not related to condemn,” Amira Khan began, “then what is the etymology of condemn?”

“Well, it’s another one of those words English got from Latin through Old French. The Latin condemnāre, which sometimes took the form condamnāre, meant ‘to condemn, convict, sentence’ and so on. The root damnāre meant ‘to damage, hurt or condemn.’”

“The prefix con- means ‘with’; doesn’t it? How does that fit in?”

“You’re right; that’s the usual meaning, but it can also be just an intensifier, making the root more forceful.”


“Well, I’ve been wrong before,” Ms. Khan said, “but if condemn comes from damnāre, I’ll be darned if it isn’t related to damn.”

“Bingo! Look at this.” I turned my phone toward her, but saw she had pulled up the OED on her iPad. “Damn used to mean ‘to pronounce adverse judgment on, affirm to be guilty; to give judicial sentence against,’ in other words it was a synonym for condemn, and, yes, it does come from damnāre.”

“Score one for me!” she said. “And we already saw that damnāre meant ‘to damage,’ so that one’s a gimme.”

Illustration: Taddeo di Bartolo (http://clement.livejournal.com/185983.html) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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