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Word roots and routes: close

© MEDIO IMAGESNext in a series of posts exploring some of the ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ of English vocabulary.

A popular stereotype concerning English vocabulary is that the high-frequency, monosyllabic words are of Germanic origin. This is often the case, but by no means always, and one of the exceptions is close, which has a Latin origin.

Close is a particularly busy and versatile word. In the Macmillan English Dictionary it has:

12 senses as a verb, plus phrases and phrasal verbs (pronunciation: /klƏƱz/)

17 senses as an adjective, plus phrases (pronunciation: /klƏƱs/)

2 senses as an adverb, plus phrases (pronunciation: /klƏƱs/)

3 senses as a noun (pronunciation: /klƏƱz/ in one of them, /klƏƱs/ in the other 2)

There are also 6 senses, plus phrases, for the adjective closed /klƏƱzd/, 4 senses for the adverb closely /’klƏƱsli/, and there are various noun and adjective compounds of close and closed. These are clearly words which will repay close study!

Apart from these, there are also quite a number of words related to close, which have trodden various routes from Latin to English, in many cases via French.

The oldest use of close is as a verb, and is related to Latin clāvis ‘key’, which also yields clavichord (a keyboard instrument), clavicle (the collarbone, named for its ability to rotate along its axis like a key), conclave (originally simply a room that could be locked with a key) and enclave (literally an area which is ‘closed in’).

The adjectival senses of close developed from the notion of the gap between two things being closed up, so that they are near each other, as for example when you close a book and the pages that were open come into contact with each other.

Other related words include closure, closet (WC is an abbreviation of ‘water closet‘), cloister, claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), claustrophobic, enclose, enclosure, disclose, undisclosed, and a number of word families based on ‘-clude/-clus-‘:

conclude (originally to close off, or end, an argument) concluding conclusion conclusive inconclusive

exclude (‘close out’) exclusion exclusive exclusively

include (‘close in’) included  including  inclusion  inclusive       

preclude (‘close before/ahead’)

recluse reclusive (‘shut up/away’)

seclude secluded seclusion (‘se-‘ = ‘apart’)

occlude occlusion – These have various scientific uses. In dentistry, for example, occlusion is the closure between the upper and lower teeth, and in meteorology, an occluded front is formed when a cold front catches up with a warm front and the two fronts close together.

The alternation between ‘d’ and ‘s’ is common in Latin-derived word families; compare, for example, decide/decision, explode/explosive, proceed/process.

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Jonathan Marks

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