Harrison Middleton University

Etymology of Independence

Etymology of Independence

We’re excited that you’ve joined the conversation! At HMU, we want to continue the great authors’ conversations in a contemporary context, and this blog will help us do that. We look back to Aristotle and the early philosophers who used reason and discourse to gain wisdom and now we endeavor to do the same every day.


July 1, 2016

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

Since language is such a foundational feature of culture, we honor this year’s independence by tracing the word itself.

*Independence (n.): freedom from dependence

from the French: indépendance

first known use circa 1640

Independence first developed during the 1630s, meaning a “fact of not depending on others or another, self-support and self-government.” Around 1610, the word ‘independency’ began to carry similar meaning. The tradition of July 4, the first U.S. Independence Day which celebrated and honored the events from 1776, began in 1791.

An Old English word for independence was “selfdom”, with self + dom “law”. Merriam-Webster states that this form is closer to privilege (n.) (defined as a special right, advantage or immunity granted only to a particular group or set of people). They note that the “two concepts are not always distinguishable”.

It is strange how words change through speech and in written form. For example, why do some words end ‘ance’ and some ‘ence’ (as in the case of independence)?

Image ID: 370077743. Copyright: welcomia. Shutterstock.com

Image ID: 370077743. Copyright: welcomia. Shutterstock.com

‘-ance’ is a suffix attached to verbs to form abstract nouns of process or fact such as convergence from converge. It can also indicate a state or quality (absence from absent). The suffix comes from Latin (-antia and -entia), which depended on the vowel in the stem word.

As Old French evolved from Latin, these were leveled to -ance, but later French borrowings from Latin (some of them subsequently passed to English) used the appropriate Latin form of the ending, as did words borrowed by English directly from Latin (such as diligence and absence).

As is common in word acquisition, the words accrued spellings and meanings. Independence originally came to English from French, and then, for whatever reason, changed back to the Latin suffix of ‘ence’.

We hope you celebrate a safe and pleasant Independence Day!

*All of today’s information came from Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. Visit: http://www.merriam-webster.com/ for more information.

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