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Word roots and routes: dict

© PhotoDisc / Getty ImagesNext in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary.

Although say, tell and word are of Germanic origin, like most of the commonest English words, quite a bit of other vocabulary connected with words and with saying is derived from Latin dicere (= ‘say’).



To dictate was originally to say something for another person to write down. This meaning, which still exists, was then extended to ordering someone to do something, and from this sense comes the noun dictator. Notice the different stress patterns in this word family:

dic’tate (verb)     dictate (noun)     dic’tation     dic’tator     dic’tatorship     dicta’torial

An edict /’i:dɪkt/ (e- = ‘out’) is an official order which is proclaimed publicly.

To predict something is literally to ‘say before’; notice how the same idea is expressed in the  Germanic foretell. Predict and its derivatives prediction, predictive, predictor, predictable, unpredictable, predictably and unpredictably are all stressed on the dict syllable, but note the different stress pattern in predicta’bility and unpredicta’bility.

To contra’dict someone or something (derivatives: contra’diction, contra’dictory) is literally to ‘say against’, and this verb also has its Germanic counterpart in gainsay.

The first element of verdict originally meant ‘true’; it also appears in very, verify, veritable, etc. And, also in the field of law and justice, jurisdiction is etymologically ‘saying the law’.

If someone has been given a benediction they have been blessed or, etymologically, ‘spoken well’ of, and this is the origin of the name which appears in English as Benedict, in French as Benoit, in Italian as Benedetto, in Czech as Beneš, in Swedish as Bengt, in Finnish as Pentti, and so on.

Some other related words are:

diction
dictum
diktat (via German)
ditto (via Italian)
indict /ɪn’daɪt/, indictment
abdicate, abdication
valediction, valedictory
vindicate, vindictive, vindictiveness and vendetta (the last of these via Italian)

The Macmillan English Dictionary‘s two examples for the phrasal verb point out are “He pointed out the best beaches on the map” and “He pointed out that we had two hours of free time before dinner”. These contrasting examples illustrate that you can point something out either verbally or non-verbally, and although most words containing the root dict are connected with words or with telling, the original meaning of dicere was actually point out, rather than say. (The same is also true of the verb say, by the way.) Words with the ‘pointing’ sense of dict include indicate (plus indi’cation, ‘indicator, in’dicative) and index.

The index finger, or forefinger, is the one normally used for pointing, and an index at the back of a book points you to the page or pages where you can find what you’re looking for.

Next in this series: heart

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Jonathan Marks

1 Comment

  • It’s great the Jonathan has pointed out the “point out” aspect most easily seen in “indicate”, as this is the path which most clearly leads to Greek δείκνυμι (I show) > English “paradigm” and “token” and also > German zeigen, and Greek δίκη (custom, usage, justice, etc) > English “theodicy”, “Eurydice”. There’s also the Spanish decire, dicho.
    A broad and fascinating word group; thanks for the study, Jonathan.

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