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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Thu Jul 15, 2010 11:19 pm

• remission •

Pronunciation: ree-mi-shên • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The act of remitting, of sending in. 2. Release or forgiveness from a debt, misbehavior, or sin. 3. [Medicine] Abatement, subsiding, lessening of a disease.

Notes: Today's word has taken quite a semantic journey which isn't easy to follow. As the noun for the verb remit, we might think that the original meaning was "sending in". However, the oldest published use, around 1200 AD, was in the sense of "remission (forgiveness) of sins". By the 14th century, it was being used in the sense of a formal pardon, as a remission of one's debts or crimes. In that same century, it was used in the sense of "lessening", as remission of the weather or diseases. It was only in the 17th century that we see the word used in its 'transparent' sense of "sending in", as in the remission of taxes to the crown. Odd, to say the least.

In Play: Looking at the use of this word on the Web, we might think that it is used only in the sense of "cancer in remission". But other things may go into remission, too: "Everyone in Pennsylvania hopes the current heat wave will go into remission and bring down temperatures." Anything even vaguely resembling sin qualifies for remission thereof: "Ray Scane promised his wife a diamond ring in exchange for remission of his next ten offenses against her (as she counts them)."

Word History: Middle English borrowed today's Good Word pretty much 'as is' from Old French. Old French inherited it from Latin remissio(n) "relaxation, a sending back," a noun built on remissus, the past participle of remittere "to slacken, let go, abate". The root of this word is something of a mystery. It seems to come from a root with a Fickle S for colloquial German schmeißen "to toss, bash" could be related, though we don't find evidence of it in other Germanic languages. Avestan maeth "send" is probably related but, again, we find no evidence of it in other Iranian languages. (We are delighted at Jeremy Busch's remission of this Good Word for consideration in our series and promise him remission of all his faults if he sends us more.)
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