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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri Jan 03, 2014 11:26 pm

• deference •

Pronunciation: def-ê-rênts • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: Courteous respect in yielding our own needs or desires to those of something or someone else.

Notes: Today's word is the process noun from the verb defer "to yield to the will or wishes of someone else". The adjective is deferent or deferential, and the adverb, deferentially. The trap, of course, is the confusion of deference with difference. While a deferential talkshow these days would be quite different for the US, the two words are quite discrete in sound and meaning.

In Play: Today's Good Word strongly implies courtesy: "Out of deference for the office you hold, I will not share my opinion of your performance in that office with you." Deference, however, is respectful yielding to any requirement, person or not: "It is only my deference for the law that prevents me from physically accosting you for saying that!"

Word History: This Good Word is the English version of Old French deferer "hand over, defer to", inherited from Latin deferre "to carry away, refer to". The Latin verb is made up of de- "from, away" + ferre "to carry". The root of ferre, fer-, developed from Proto-Indo-European bher- "bear, carry", which went into the making of English (to) bear. Initial BH became F in Latin regularly. This also explains the relation of burn and furnace: the former is a native English word, the latter a borrowing from Latin. In fact, the PIE root bher- turns up in several English words, including the barrow of wheelbarrow, from Old English bearwe "basket", and Scots English bairn "child", referring to something else that is born.
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Re: Deference

Postby MTC » Sat Jan 04, 2014 8:25 pm

Contrary to what one might expect, replacing the prefix "de" meaning "away" in "deference" with its opposite, "in" does not produce an antonym of "deference," but "inference," a word which is neither a synonym nor an antonym. (Is there a name for such a word?)

infer (v.)
1520s, from Latin inferre "bring into, carry in; deduce, infer, conclude, draw an inference; bring against," from in- "in" (see in- (2)) + ferre "carry, bear,"
(Partial etymology from

Maybe Doc has an explanation. It would be an exercise to think of more such words.

And this brings me to another tangent: Why do we "draw" inferences? What is the origin of this idiom? Perhaps because we "draw" meaning "in," so to speak? But the definition suggests we draw inferences "out" from premises. "Inference is the act or process of deriving (or "drawing") logical conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true." I had always envisioned the unsatisfying image of an artist "drawing" a picture of a conclusion, knew that was probably incorrect, but never took the time to find a better explanation. Speaking of idioms, the conclusion drawn is also called an "idiomatic."

But, I am being insufficiently deferential to today's word, "deference," and have "jacked" the discussion. Back on track.

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