Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

To take

To take

The Indo-European root that meant take or seize was ghend. It made its way into Latin as prendere, and made its way from there to many places, & one of those places is the English language.

We find it in the word prey, which arrived in the 1300s originally meaning to plunder, pillage & ravage, all arguably forms of taking. Over the years prey has come to be both a noun & a verb. Its primary modern meanings are an animal hunted or taken for food & to seize food.

Latin for bird of prey was osprey, which showed up in English in the 1400s. Interestingly, Latin-speakers called the bird we now call an osprey an ossifrage, but somewhere on the way to English through Medieval Latin & Old French, the similarity of the two words confused things and the ossifrage became the osprey.

The word spree (meaning a drinking bout) appeared in English in 1804 from Scottish. Though its earlier source may have been the French word esprit, it more likely came from a Middle Irish word meaning takings or booty, which, as you’ve already guessed, came from the Latin word meaning take.

When we win something we take it home & call it a prize, & when we pry into someone’s life or physically pry something from its place, it’s another sort of taking, all from that same root.

When we take someone unawares we surprise that person. And when we take someone & lock him/her up that person becomes an imprisoned prisoner in a prison, all words that started out as a little word meaning take.

And a person involved in taking this for that is an entrepreneur, a word that appeared in English in 1828. Entrepreneur came from combining the Latin prefix entre- (between) with the Latin root prendere (to take or seize).

I’m hoping some of you will have something to say in the comments section. Perhaps you’ll offer your take on all this.

Big thanks to friend Aaron Keating, for suggesting this week’s topic, & thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam-Webster, Wordnik,  Etymonline, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.


  1. "Osprey" sounds much more menacing, but I love the name "ossifrage." Sounds like another sort of bird altogether. Something sort of fluffy and snooty. :-)

    1. I like the idea of a bird called fluffius snootimus. Of course, the common name would have to be ossifrage. Thanks for coming by, Anne.