A Certain Something

All right. I was sufficiently caffeinated to make it to the java joint I call my office. I ordered a “tall” (small) cup of Joe, just to be legit, not that I needed it.

I looked back at Ms. Big’s message to be certain I hadn’t missed any clues. That was it: certain! She said, “I’m certain UR discerning enuf…” Was certain another word; like secret, secrete, secretary, discrete, discreet, discern, concern, discriminate and crime; derived from Latin cernĕre, ‘to separate’?Image

Yep. Cernĕre was the root. But wait a minute. This time the trusty Oxford English Dictionary defined it differently: Cernĕre, it said, comes from Old French certain, from certus ‘determined, settled, sure,’ originally past participle of cernĕre, ‘to decide, determine, etc.’ ‘Decide’? What happened to ‘separate’?

So what was the origin of decide? It looked Latinate. Turns out it’s from French decider, which comes from Latin dēcīdĕre ‘to cut off, cut the knot, decide, determine.’ Dēcīdĕre breaks down into de- ‘off, away, aside+ cædĕre ‘to cut.’ Okay. ‘Separate’ or ‘cut off.’ I saw the connection, or should I say, distinction?

But cædĕre has a darker meaning. It’s not just ‘to cut.’ It also means ‘to kill,’ as I had learned earlier. Organ music swelled. I shivered. Was it an omen? Or just java jitters and a barista’s bad CD choice?

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4 Responses to A Certain Something

  1. Markus says:

    What about ‘decapitate’, is that from the same roots?

  2. Thanks for your question, Markus. The prefix de- ‘off, away, to remove’ is the same. The stem of “decapitate” is from Latin caput, capit- ‘head.’

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ah, so that’s where ‘cadaver’ comes from

  4. Good guess, Anonymous. According to the OED Online you may be right. It says: “Latin cadāver dead body, perhaps < cad-ĕre to fall. So French cadavre."

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