Rambling about a prefix: dis-
I’m a bit of a word geek. I have been known to read the dictionary, and books on grammar, and visit the online etymology dictionary just for fun. That may make me a logophile, but I draw the line at logophilia. I also dig calligraphy. I mean, check some of this out:
Alright, well, the point of today’s post, if there is a point (which I’m beginning to doubt), is to look at one of my favourite prefixes: dis-. Although it changes the root word to its opposite, ascribing a sense of apartness (dishonest), there is a connection that I feel is intuitive (i.e. I haven’t found it substantiated in any reference on the subject). It can denote a negative meaning to the root, but it feels to me that it imparts a sense of corruption or degeneration.
ease becomes disease. It is not a simple opposition, like up and down, it is something more sinister, like right and left.
In Dante’s Inferno, Dis is the name of the city in Hell that encompasses the 6th through 9th circles, which is to say, the most serious transgressions. Despite that he wrote in the Italian of his day and region, I’m looking at the flavour of these words in English (which was only really distinguishing itself in Dante’s time).
The Romans were known to call Pluto, their god of the underworld, by the title Dis Pater, which is Father Dis. (see American Plutocracy).
So dis- takes on a hellish meaning (at least to me).
Here’s a sampling of words to show you what I mean:
- disable, disability
We could have used un- as a prefix (except that its of Germanic origin, but at this point, it’s all the same in English). Look at the difference between disease and unease, disable and unable, disbeliever and unbeliever.
The city of Dis contains sinners guilty of first degree crimes (premeditated, and requiring action on their part, as opposed to spontaneous or passive crimes). In a sense, the above examples (given that I have only a smattering of them) show a sinister or far more negative meaning associated with dis- than un-, and in some cases, the difference is one of intent. A disbeliever refuses to believe. An unbeliever may be persuaded.
What is most telling about this underlying significance is the use of the prefix as a word, a word which serves to substitute for the word disrespect used as a verb. Don’t dis me. Although this usage has fallen out of vogue, it was widely used for a while around the turn of the millennium. In fact, a dis was sufficient grounds for retaliation, fisticuffs, dislocated shoulders and all.
I think if there were a verb that most closely defines “dis,” it would be dismiss. Like blowing someone off completely and utterly. A short form of the equally insulting “whatever.” Either way, disaffecting.
I don’t really have a point, just riffing on this thing. I’m going to be out of town for a few days, and wanted to take care to make sure I had a few posts lined up for my absence.
144 Days to Dec 21st 2012