For me, one of the best parts of learning a new language is the way it leads you to wonder anew at your mother tongue. In Dialog in Deutsch this morning we were talking about the various compounds that can be formed by adding a prefix to the noun die Sicht – “sight,” “visibility,” “view” and “point of view.” Now this is a favorite word of mine because it was one of the first I learned as part of a compound because Ex, one of the characters in Warum Nicht? the language learning radio program from Deutsche Welle, is an invisible – unsichtbar – elf (and, yes, that this is rather odd really does help to fix the vocabulary in one’s mind!).
The compound that caught my attention today in terms of what it highlighted about English, however, was die Umsicht. This can translated as “circumspection” – the more formal option – as well as “prudence.” I don’t think I ever put “circumspection” together with its relatives “introspection” and “inspection,” nor had a I thought about its connections with “circumnavigate” or “circumscribe.” If you look at the etymology of “circumspection,” you will find a Latin root meaning “to look around” which shows a clear relationship to Umsicht if you pull it apart into um – “around” and Sicht – “view”. (You can also find “*spect” in the “prospect” meaning of die Aussicht.)
Intriguingly, die Vorsicht, is also given as a translation of “prudence” – amazing what one can “see” if one is prudent enough to take the time to “look out!” for beautiful language “sights!”