As usual, I’m a day late and a dollar short on the etymology front. Or, rather, a week later and completely broke because as much as I love you all, I am not paying you to read my blog. Today’s inspiration comes from last week’s national holiday, the 4th of July, on which we celebrate the days the American colonists decided to thumb their noses at Mother England and Father George. (Funny, isn’t it, how we booted out one George and promptly tried to get another to subjugate us?) Anyway…here’s your word.
As with all good things, independence does not come easy. Neither does its etymology, apparently. I lifted an eyebrow last week when a quick internet search yielded nothing about the etymology of “independence.” I didn’t expect anything complicated, having a fairly good guess at the origin, but I imagined it would have shown up in one or two patriot places. Not so.
My dictionary was not any more forthcoming with a word history, which did surprise me. I was hoping at least for a quick note to point to when the word came into use, whether in Latin or English or somewhere in between. No such luck. I had to backtrack to “dependence” and from there (actually, unsurprisingly) to “depend.”
“Depend” is a classic Latin to Old French to Middle English verb, changing very little in form or meaning along the way. It does break down into two parts in Latin de- meaning “away” or, in this case, “down,” and pendere, meaning “to hang.” The connotation, as far as I can tell, is fairly similar now as it originally was. The idea still, if you’ll forgive the expression, hangs around in modern English. People who require too much or who are generally unwelcome are “clingy” or “hangers-on.”
You all know in-, right? As in “inflammable” or “incredulous,” this prefix (preposition, if you’re teaching Latin) means “against” or “not.” “Independence,” then, roughly means “not hanging on.” When you put it that way, it’s a bit surprising England wasn’t just itching to get rid of us, isn’t it?