Mystery of the Restricted District

Bands of sunlight struck my face through the blinds. Morning. The memory of a dream, or nightmare, about Bugsy Beetlebaum flashed through my mind and disappeared. After I finished off my third cup of java and a slab of leftover pizza of uncertain vintage I was ready to face the day. Or almost. I needed to finish off some leftover etymology.

So far I had learned that stress and strain were shortened from older words distress and the obsolete distrain. They all derived from Latin distringĕre, which like distrain, meant ‘to grasp, retrain, confine or hold captive.’ But I had Etymologist’s Itch – the feeling that there were more relatives to uncover – and I had to scratch.

I searched the OED Online for distringĕre in the “etymology” field. The yield was paltry: distress, distrain, a couple of obsolete words and district. Here’s the dope on the etymology of district:

< French district < medieval Latin district-us (1) the constraining and restraining of offenders, the exercise of justice, (2) the power of exercising justice in a certain territory, jurisdiction, (3) the territory under the jurisdiction of a feudal lord; < Latin district- participial stem of distringĕre

Something was fishy. What about constrain, restrain, restrict, strict, stricture and maybe even strait and straight?

Illustration: Orchid Cup by J.B. Herman

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