Batting About “Debate” and “Combat”

As I hopped on the Dash bus down Franklin toward home I couldn’t get that Batman character out of my mind. He was batty, all right, but he certainly isn’t the only one in this burg. That’s part of the charm of Hollyweird. And he led me to a mother lode of  “bat-” etymologies.

Debate, for example, comes from Old French debatre, which is from Latin dis- (expressing reversal) + battere ‘to fight.’ The nerds on the high school debate team might be surprised to learn that debating originally meant physically, not just verbally, bashing your opponent. Chaucer spoke of  “his cote-armour…In which he wold debate.”

In other words, debate was combat, another bat- word. Combat entered English in the mid 16th century from French combattre (verb), from late Latin combattere, from com- ‘with’ + battere, variant of Latin batuere ‘to fight.’

320px-Armwrestle‘To fight with…’ reminds me that linguist Robert Hertz pointed out “He fought with his mother-in-law” can be interpreted three ways: ‘They argued,’ ‘They served together in the armed forces’ or ‘He used the old battle-ax as a weapon.’

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