Over the years, words can change meaning significantly. Originally, describing someone as “silly” would have meant they were blessed with worthiness – but that definitely isn’t the case today.
While some words change meaning completely, others have developed from the original Latin word in ways that make sense. In fact, some are so close that you could drop them into conversation with an Ancient Roman and they would likely to know exactly what you mean.
Take a look at these 9 words that have been handed down from Latin and still resemble the word or meaning they originally carried…
“The company was in a state of flux since the board were fired.”
If someone or something is considered to be in a state of “flux” they are going through some kind of change. Interestingly, the Latin origin of this word is “fluxus” – which meant flowing or loose. Clearly, these words can relate to change – but there are other “flow” words that stem from “fluxus”.
“Fluent” now describes a language that flows out of us with little effort – but it originally mean an “excessive flow” of blood or excrement that was related to illness.
It’s also thought that “flush” could relate to the Latin origin of “flux”. If we flush something, we let water flow through it to cleanse it. Equally, if you have a “flush” in a card game, a specific suit flows through all those cards.
“The law firm were sent a facsimile of the contract.”
If you’re born after 1990, you might not remember fax (short for “facsimile”) machines – a combination of a copier and a telephone that scanned, sent, then printed paper copies of documents between businesses using the phone line. Today, the internet handles these jobs more effectively – but pre-internet, these were popular with lawyers, accountants, and other businesses that needed quick delivery of paperwork.
To understand the root of this word, we need to combine “facere” meaning “to make” and “simile” meaning “like”. Combine the two and you get a phrase that means “to make like”. Fax machines machines were given a shortened version of the word “facsimile” because they ‘made a likeness’ of a document.
“His religious upbringing meant he would remain celibate until he was married.”
Today, we tend to use the word “celibate” to mean someone is “abstaining from sexual relations” – typically for religious reasons. However, the original Latin meaning was a little different. Back then, “caelibatus” actually meant “unmarried”.
This is an interesting reflection on how cultures change too. Today, many people engage in sexual relations before marriage – but in the past, marriage and a person’s first experience of sexual intimacy usually went hand-in-hand. This perhaps explains why the words have shared a meaning in the past.
“The rebel fighters were almost certainly guilty of this atrocity.”
When we hear about wars and violent regimes, they’re often linked to the word “atrocity” – an extremely cruel, criminal act that’s carried out, usually against other people.
As such, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the Latin origin of this word, “atrox” means “cruelty, fierceness, harshness”.
Although the word “atrocity” still carries it’s strong meaning, there are words that have developed from “atrox” that don’t carry the same strength. For instance, if you describe a meal as “atrocious” – it now just means that it was appallingly bad – but probably not evil!
“As someone used to interviewing politicians, she was used to hearing ambiguous answers.”
If something is ambiguous, it’s open to having more than one meaning or interpretation. For instance, if a delivery driver says your parcel will arrive ‘soon’ – does that mean in the next 10 minutes? Or the next 3 days?
The original Latin word was actually “ambigere” roughly meaning ‘to waver, go around’. This then developed into “ambiguus” which meant “doubtful”. Both these meanings have relevance to the modern meaning of the word – often used to describe a person who finds a way to avoid answering a question by doing so with a doubtful answer.
“Tony was pleased to see his plan for the sales team was on the meeting agenda.”
If you don’t like wasting time, you’ll usually be pleased to see that a meeting has a tight “agenda” – a list of things that need to be covered.
It’s been a long time since “agenda” was spoken in Latin to talk through the running order of a meeting in the Roman Empire – but the meaning has barely changed. Back then, “agenda” literally meant “things that ought to be done”.
“His therapy sessions were followed by days of serious introspection.”
When we talk about introspection today, we’re usually talking about considering our inner-most feelings, desires, or motivations. The ability to be “introspective” is often closely associated with people who have higher emotional intelligence – considering how their feelings impact their actions.
Probably unsurprisingly – considering how many philosophers came from Ancient Rome – the word hasn’t changed a great deal since it was first used in Latin. The word is a combination of the Latin “introspicere” – which breaks down into “intro-“ which means “inward” and “specere” which means “to look at”.
“He was naïve to assume she was telling the truth – she’d lied to him countless times before.”
Today, when we describe someone as “naïve” we suggest that they have a lack of wisdom or judgement – perhaps a lack of real-world experience that shows as innocence. It’s a term that’s also used in the art world to describe a composition that’s very direct and somewhat child-like.
The Latin origin of the word is actually “nativus” – which is also the root of the word “natural”. The link between these words and the word naïve is perhaps a little clearer when we understand this common root. If someone is naïve, they might be considered to be in their natural state – unjaded by the world and other people.
“Her appearance identified her as a renegade – she didn’t care what the other party-goers thought.”
If you’re described as a “renegade” you’re probably someone who rejects the norms that someone or society is eager for them to conform to. The punk music movement was full of renegades – and there are plenty of renegades in movies and TV shows; think Walter White and Jesse Pinkman or perhaps Loki in the Avengers franchise.
The Latin root of the word “renegade” is “renegātus” and taps into this rebellious attitude – it simply means “I deny”. In fact, the original renegades were likely to be people who denied the existence of a deity and became apostates from a religious faith.