Negative growth?

Since fostering growth is a key part of what I do professionally, I learned the words die Entwicklung and entwickeln – “development” and “to develop” soon after I moved to Germany. What I didn’t notice until this morning is that in both languages the words for “development” are prefixed with something that typically indicates a negation of the meaning of the stem. For instance, this is the definition of “de-” from the Cambridge dictionary: “used to add the meaning ‘opposite’, ‘remove’, or ‘reduce’ to a noun or verb.” Duden offers a number of meaning for ent- : “something is undone or returned to its original state, the removal or displacement of something, or taking something away.” The German Language page of about.com relates it to the English prefixes “de-” and “dis-” and gives its meaning as “away from.”

Now “*velop” appears in both “develop” and “envelop” but it is not currently a standalone word with a meaning that can be negated (Google gives the etymology as arising from Latin “dis- ‘un-’ + a second element of unknown origin found also in envelop,” which became the French word développer – “to unfold, unfurl). Wickeln, on the other hand, is a standalone word with the meaning, according to Pons, “to wrap something around something” and colloquially “to change a baby’s diaper.” This is a rather productive stem with one word from the family, einwickeln, being one possible translation for “to envelop.”

When I think about development or die Entwicklung now, I will pay even more attention to how it must involve paring away and replacement rather than simply accretion of the new.

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One thought on “Negative growth?

  1. […] that Vertreter comes from treten and Verräter comes from raten, both with ver-, a buddy of our old friend ent-, tacked on at the front. Interestingly, given I learned the word der Vertreter in the context […]

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