Learning to Never Doubt Lucas

In one of his recent writing pieces, Lucas attempted to use the word existed but spelled it excited in one sentence and then excisted in another. When I asked him to write the word again he wrote <exsist> + <ed> accompanied by “I think it’s related to insist…they both have <sist>.” Dubious, I asked the usual, “What do both words mean?” After discussing both and concluding that there was no connection in meaning (wrongly, I now know), I wrote the spellings <exist> and <existed>. I assumed the base element was <exist>, but Lucas said, “OK, so <-ed> suffix, and possibly an <ex-> prefix, which leaves <ist>. Maybe that’s a connecting vowel <i> and the base <st> ‘to stand‘.” I gave my usual dumbfounded response, “Yeah, maybe,” and then we moved on to the ERB writing assessment, which the students are working on as I write this.

I am now on Etymonline, enlightened once again by the orthographic instincts of Lucas.

Notice “from Latin existere/exsistere.” And furthermore, sistere “cause to stand”, which, of course is related to <insist> as Lucas suspected.

Now I’m wondering, on my own as Lucas and the rest of my word detectives are busy, how to analyze all these words with the element <sist>. If <st> is in fact the two-letter base element meaning “to stand”, how can I account for the <si> in words like <insist> and <assist>?

in + si + st + ence

as + si + st + ed

My present level of understanding allows for the following matrix.

6 thoughts on “Learning to Never Doubt Lucas

  1. Old Grouch

    Three cheers for Lucas, orthographic hero!

    As you discovered, the Latin source was originally ‘exsistere’ but later the initial ’s’ of the verbal root was assimilated to the previous ‘x’ which itself represented [ks] to form ‘existere’. The same thing happened in similar circumstances, such as in these Latin words:

    ex(s)tirp(are) – compare ‘extirpate’
    ex(s)ecution(em) – compare ‘execution’
    ex(s)il(ire) – compare ‘exile’
    ex(s)pect(are) – compare ‘expect’
    ex(s)pir(are) – compare ‘expire’
    ex(s)tinct(um) – compare ‘extinct’
    ex(s)ud(are) – compare ‘exude’
    ex(s)ult(are) – compare ‘exult’

    Latin (and Greek) had a slightly different convention about morpheme boundaries in the case of certain letters. It concerned single consonant letters which represent a consonant cluster (‘x’ is the only such letter in the native Latin alphabet – it represented [ks] and occasionally [gz]). Thus if the initial consonant phone immediately following the ‘cluster’ letter was the same as the final consonant phone of the cluster, they could be (in Greek always would be) ‘fused’ with it.

    So while the earlier Latin form ‘exsistere’ respected the morpheme boundary between ‘ex’ and ‘sistere’, the form ‘existere’ did not – but that was fine in Latin.

    In English though, the convention is firm. ‘Exist’ – as far as Present Day English is concerned’ – probably needs to be regarded as a PDE base element – a crumb of comfort for Dan!

    For the record ‘sist(ere)’ is a ‘reduplicated’ form of the verb ‘st(are)’, where the reduplication has the effect of giving the verb a ‘causative’ sense: ‘st(are)’ – “stand”, ‘sist(ere)’ – “cause to stand”.

    There is a similar process that operates when ‘trans’ compounds in Latin with a component that has an initial ’s’ – but you can leave that on hold until it transpires (rather than transspires!) that you meet such a case.

    Lucas’s orthographic instinct (not being extinct) was good all the time.

    1. Dan Post author

      Brilliant response, as usual, Old Grouch. Wondering about…

      “be regarded as a PDE base element”

      Present Day English, right? I take that to mean that ‘exist’ is now considered a base element, not further analyzable. You then cleverly include ‘instinct’ and ‘extinct’, both obviously related in meaning, but ‘extinct’ dropping the ‘s’ for the reasons you so clearly explained. So is ‘extinct’ also a base element, rather than ‘ex’ + ‘tinct’?

      1. Old Grouch

        What I wrote was that ‘exist’ – as far as Present Day English is concerned – *probably* needs to be regarded as a PDE base element.

        What’s Lucas’s reasoned opinion?

        1. Ann Whiting

          So PIE *sta which has led to *siste (reduplicated form..still wondering about that!) which has led to two Latin roots ‘st(are)’ and ‘sist(ere)’ leading to the PDE bound base element ‘st’ and ‘sist’ . Why can’t be another bound base element that occurs only after prefix ex- ? I’ve wondered about this for ages and dodged around this word for years with kids… so glad you raised this question Lucas and Dan.

          1. Ann Whiting

            Sorry! In my enthusiasm to find out more information ,I left out a vital piece in my comment above…it should read as ‘why can’t ‘ist’ be regarded as another base element that occurs only after ex- ? So there would be ‘sist’ and ‘ist’ coming from the L. sist(ere).

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