Discomfit

From Hull AWE
Jump to: navigation, search

The verb 'to discomfit' is pronounced, in British RP, 'dis-COME-fit', IPA: /dɪs 'kʌm fɪt/. (For a note on spelling the different inflections, see Consonant doubling; the past forms are 'discomfited', and the present participle is 'discomfiting'.) Sometimes it is pronounced, in the southern American states, dis-come-FIT, /,dɪs kəm 'fɪt/). The use of discomfit may irritate some older, more pedantic, academics, who remember its traditional and etymological meaning:

  • 'to destroy in battle', 'to defeat comprehensively'. 'to rout'. This meaning is described in Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries as 'archaic'.
  • The original meaning has been replaced in many circles by the meaning 'to thwart or frustrate the plans [of someone]', 'to bring [someone's] hopes to nothing'. On-line Fowler gives this as its meaning in current English, which it may be for some; but the meaning most likely to be condemned by purists is
  • 'to embarrass', 'to perplex', 'to make feel uncomfortable' or 'to make [someone] uneasy'. This meaning, which can be traced back to the year 1400 CE, seems to have grown out of a confusion with the near homophone discomfort.

Discomfort itself, which OED says has been "frequently confused" with discomfit, with one quotation dated 1382, a mere 50 years after its first appearance in English (c. 1330), can be either a noun "now in weakened sense: The condition of being uncomfortable; uneasiness (of mind or body)" or a verb, "Now in weakened sense: To make uncomfortable or uneasy (mentally or physically)".

The preferred noun from the verb discomfit is discomfiture. There is also a verbal noun discomfiting, which AWE feels less academic. There is no such word, in formal English, as discomforture.

Etymological note: discomfit comes from Latin, through French. Its roots are con- 'together with', 'completely'; facere 'to do', 'to make'; and a powerful negative. dis-. The whole makes 'to undo completely' - hence the first meaning above. It is one of the curious coincidences of etymology that the same roots give rise to 'confectionery', and the related 'confection' (the verb 'confect' is rarer nowadays outside the world of fashion); 'comfit', the archaic name for a type of sweet - what is nowadays 'crystallized fruit, [or ginger etc]'; and the French words 'confit', now usually a preserve of meat cooked and stored in its own fat, but formerly the same as 'comfit' (sweetmeat); and 'confiture', 'jam'.