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How did « re » + « partir » compound to "repartee", which means "rejoinder"?

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In French, « partir » means "to (de)part". What semantic notions underlie « re » + « partir » with the 2020 AD English meaning of repartee (i.e. riposting »))? (de)parting and replying don't seem related, probably because I know nothing about fencing. repartee (n.)

1640s, "quick remark," from French repartie "an answering blow or thrust" (originally a fencing term), noun use of fem. past participle of Old French repartir "to reply promptly, start out again,"
from re- "back" (see re- + partir "to divide, separate, set out,"
from Latin partiri "to share, part, distribute, divide,"
from pars "a part, piece, a share" (from PIE root *pere- (2) "to grant, allot").

In 17c. often spelled reparty (see -ee). Meaning "a series of sharp rejoinders exchanged" is from 1680s.

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I believe the relationship is more with the "starting" connotation (note the "start out again" usage in your quoted text). Sigma‭ 22 days ago

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partir is intransitive in modern French ("depart") but primarily transitive in Old French ("distribute", i.e., "make depart"). The transitive meaning is still preserved, as an archaism, in the set phrase "avoir maille à partir avec...".

Analyze the prefix separately from the root:

  • re- - again, anew.
  • partir - distribute (blows).

During the 17th century, fencing was not yet a sport, it was a deadly combat activity. The activity consisted of distributing blows to opponent(s) without receiving too many.

The prefix re- in "repartir" is actually etymologically the same prefix as that of English "reply" (from Latin "replicare" through Old French) and riposte (from Latin "respondere" through Italian and French), so that morpheme's various reuses (pun intended) are hopefully intuitive enough even today.

The word "répartie" with the sense of "reply" existed already in French. It already lost some of the "thrust for a thrust" connotation in current French, so it does not have to be a particularly witty reply or to be replying to an immediately preceding verbal attack in French, unlike "repartee" in English. So while both the English "repartee" and French "répartie" can be translated as a "reply", the former's meaning is more specialized.

Note that "riposte" itself has at least two quite distinct meanings in English, I'm not quite sure which one you were referring to.

  • In fencing, it's an counter-attack immediately following a parry. It has special implications within the rules of the sport.
  • In a verbal exchange, it's a reply to an insult or to another verbal attack.

The second meaning is metaphorically derived from the first one. Etymology online for riposte: "Sense of "sharp retort; quick, sharp reply," is first attested 1865. As a verb, 1851."

TL;DR: An earlier meaning of replying to physical blows, i.e., answering distribution of blows with "distributing back", was metaphorically extended to an exchange of verbal blows between trained brains.

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5 comments

"The second meaning is probably metaphorically derived from the first one." Yes, I know, but how? That's the question, but you've only re-stated it. I'm uncertain if you've answered this? The rest of your answer doesn't answer it. PLTR PSTH‭ 6 days ago

@PLTR PSTH - I can research the other word and then edit the trailer of the answer, but it was the question which referred to the "2020 meaning" of "riposting" as if that word, unlike "repartir", was something assumed already clear. Was the question referring to a specific meaning, or perhaps to both listed meanings of "riposte"? Feel free to edit the question if you can tell from our exchange why I have misunderstood as asking just about "repartir". Jirka Hanika‭ 4 days ago

@Jirka Thank you for your answer, and for offering to research the second meaning. Please feel free to edit my post if it's unclear. I intended to ask how "repartee" (or its French etymons) shifted to mean "riposte". PLTR PSTH‭ 3 days ago

@PLTR PSTH - Just to be sure about your question: how it shifted to mean "riposte" as in fencing, or how it shifted to mean "riposte" as in a verbal exchange? Jirka Hanika‭ 3 days ago

@PLTR PSTH - I have left the question as is, but I have made several things in the answer more definite and more explicit in case any of that helps. Jirka Hanika‭ about 23 hours ago

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