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Q&A

How's inVESTing semantically related to VEST? Isn't the "idea of dressing your capital up in different clothes" insane?

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Isn't "the idea of dressing one’s capital up in different clothes by putting it into a particular business, stock, etc" batty and nutty? This semantic relationship probably would never cross the mind of a retail amateur investor in 2021.

Before I read these quotations below, I had never heard of this kooky "idea of dressing one's capital up" in financial securities or investments, e.g. stocks, bonds, Exchange Traded Funds, etc.

invest [16]

The etymological notion underlying invest is of ‘putting on clothes’. It comes via Old French investir from Latin investīre, a compound verb formed from the prefix in- and vestis ‘clothes’ (source of English vest, vestment, travesty, etc). It retained that original literal sense ‘clothe’ in English for several centuries, but now it survives only in its metaphorical descendant ‘instal in an office’ (as originally performed by clothing in special garments). Its financial sense, first recorded in English in the early 17th century, is thought to have originated in Italian investire from the idea of dressing one’s capital up in different clothes by putting it into a particular business, stock, etc.

Word Origins (2005 2e) by John Ayto, p 291.

Invest - 9 Financial Words With Surprising Origins | Merriam-Webster

The financial meaning of the word also descends from Latin, but it entered English via Italian in the early 17th century. In Italian, investire developed a special sense fabricated from the notion of "clothing" money in a new form. That use was attached to the English word invest, which eventually came to refer to a commitment of money to earn a return. This financial sense of invest is attested in the early 1600s in connection with trading by the East India Company.

'Invest': Dress for Success

Vest is also a verb in English, but a funny thing happened in the Middle Ages to this Latin-based word: it jumped in meaning from simply “to clothe” to the more bureaucratic definition of “to give (someone) the legal right or power to do something or to own land or property.” This meaning solidifies a metaphorical use of “to vest” in Latin that was closer to “to surround” or “to adorn,” as in: “adorned with the robes of office.” The official robes worn by clergy were the symbols of their positions and, perhaps unsurprisingly, called vestments. Wearing these clothes was a public claim on power, salary, and status.

This is why we sometimes hear the phrase “by the powers vested in me.” The use of vested as an adjective meaning “fully and unconditionally guaranteed as a legal right, benefit, or privilege” (as in “fully vested”) came into the language in the 1700s.

[ . . . ]

The Origin of 'Invest'

A similar change happened at this time to a parallel verb that entered English about a century later: invest. The Latin verb investire meant “to clothe” or “to surround” (the prefix in- + vestīre meant “to dress,” “to clothe”; the etymology of invest literally means “in clothes”). In Medieval Latin, this verb took on the same specific bureaucratic meaning that vest had acquired, and this meaning was duly transferred to this word’s descendants in French and English. The noun form of this term initially was the Latinate word investiture, with its younger cousin investment arriving more than two centuries later.

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x-post https://historum.com/threads/hows-investing-semantically-related-to-vest-isnt-the-idea-of-dres... (1 comment)

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Let's disregard vestments (clothing) for a moment and consider hats. In many cultures, specific hats are associated with different social roles. Sometimes these are strictly regulated by sumptuary laws, and sometimes they are on a spectrum between mandatory and fashionable. E.g. a firefighter's helmet, a police officer's hat, a soldier's cover -- these are partially functional but also convey social meaning. We literally refer to US Army Special Forces as "green berets". A person wearing a different hat embodies a different social role, and will act and be expected to act in different ways.

When we "invest" in non-financial senses, we put something into a different role. We invest a person with the power of an office; we invest our selves into a set of beliefs. We take the thing and give it a different hat, and while it is wearing the hat, we expect it to be different.

So, financially, we invest money, time and effort into businesses and expect that to act differently from the money, time and effort we have not so invested.

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That's a nice parallel metaphor. (4 comments)

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