Communities

Writing
Writing
Codidact Meta
Codidact Meta
The Great Outdoors
The Great Outdoors
Photography & Video
Photography & Video
Scientific Speculation
Scientific Speculation
Cooking
Cooking
Electrical Engineering
Electrical Engineering
Judaism
Judaism
Languages & Linguistics
Languages & Linguistics
Software Development
Software Development
Mathematics
Mathematics
Christianity
Christianity
Code Golf
Code Golf
Music
Music
Physics
Physics
Linux Systems
Linux Systems
Power Users
Power Users
Tabletop RPGs
Tabletop RPGs

Dashboard
Notifications
Mark all as read
Q&A

How did "put under" shift to signify "cause to take the place of", then "enough"?

+0
−0
  1. How did "put under" shift to signify "cause to take the place of"?

  2. Then how did "cause to take the place of" shift to signify "enough"?

sufficient [14]

_Sufficient _originated as the present participle of Latin sufficere ‘be enough’ (source also of English suffice [14]). This was a compound verb formed from the prefix sub- ‘under’ and facere ‘do, make’ (source of English fact, factory, etc). It originally meant literally ‘put under’, and the notion of ‘enough’ evolved via ‘cause to take the place of’.

Word Origins (2005 2e) by John Ayto. p 487 Right column.

Why does this post require moderator attention?
You might want to add some details to your flag.
Why should this post be closed?

0 comment threads

1 answer

+1
−0

I doubt that "sufficere" ever meant "put under"; I'll assume that this meaning was just suggested as a crude literal translation rather than attested as real Latin usage.

The same Indo-European morpheme that entered Latin as "sub-" is actually also reflected in English "up" and "above" (and in Sanskrit "upari" meaning "above", "on", "upward", "over" - and indeed, in Latin "super" meaning "above"), so we shouldn't rush to conclude that the the most well known meaning "under" is necessarily the only or original one. There's a fascinating range of other meanings that share a local, temporal, or metaphorical notion of close proximity.

The temporal meaning of "sub" (if used with the accusative) means "just before" or sometimes "just after". This (latter) prepositional meaning of prepositional "sub" could perhaps have been the basis of the corresponding prefix in the relevant forms of "sufficere".

A nice example usage is "resulting from a by-election": if a "consul ordinarius" dies or is deposed, he is replaced by a "consul suffectus". A consul suffect succeeding[1] a regular consul is not quite like the regular consul, in terms of prestige, but they can serve in a similar capacity. That's where you have the intermediate meaning of "cause to take the place of".

However, this is just a later example of an earlier, more general and rather productive usage of the prefix "sub-" in the meaning of "somewhat". Example given here: "subhorridus" meaning "somewhat rough": or, if you will, "adjacent to rough" in the abstract space of degrees of roughness.

The second semantic shift from "somewhat like" to "enough" seems to have been accomplished by the notion that "if you substitute[2] X for the needed Y, X will meet the need Y". If it wouldn't, it wouldn't have been a successful[3] substitution, would it?


  1. Note the prefix of "succeeding": that's the same temporal usage of "sub-". ↩︎

  2. Note the prefix. Temporal usage again, I think. ↩︎

  3. Can't resist adding this footnote. ↩︎

Why does this post require moderator attention?
You might want to add some details to your flag.

0 comment threads

Sign up to answer this question »