Comprehend

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Dr. Goodword
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Comprehend

Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Jan 21, 2018 10:03 pm

• comprehend •


Pronunciation: kahm-pri-hendHear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. Understand, grasp mentally, figure out, get your head around. 2. Include, encompass, embrace, comprise, contain.

Notes: Today's word comes with a large lexical family. The noun is comprehension with an adjective comprehensional "related to comprehension". There are active (comprehensive "all-inclusive") and two passive adjectives, comprehendible and comprehensible, both with adverbs on -ly. Do not confuse this word with apprehend "to catch, capture". Some do.

In Play: The first meaning is closer to "get your head around" than "understand", since its object must be a large idea or concept: "The current congress has difficulty comprehending the country it is supposed to be governing." The second meaning, again, implies something big: "My county, with a population of only 43,000, is so rich it comprehends eight banks, forty restaurants and a huge hospital campus."

Word History: This Good Word comes from Latin comprehendere "to take together, seize; include", but also "to comprehend, perceive" (to seize with the mind). It comprises com "with, together" + prehendere "to catch hold of, seize", also the source of prehensile. French added a prefix sur- "over, above" to its version of prehendere, prehendre, to create surprendre "to surprise". English took the feminine of the past participle of this word for its surprise. Latin inherited the root of prehendere (pre-hendere) from PIE ghe(n)d- "seize, take" with a Fickle N. Without the Fickle N it became get in English. English also borrowed Old Swedish gissa "guess" from the same source, frenchifying it into guess. (Perry Lassiter, I'm sure, would not comprehend our forgetting to thank him liberally for his suggestion of today's comprehensive Good Word.)
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Slava
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Re: Comprehend

Postby Slava » Mon Apr 23, 2018 1:59 pm

Yet apprehension is also a form of comprehension. I'm not sure of how to explain the difference, though. Any takers?
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Re: Comprehend

Postby George Kovac » Mon Apr 23, 2018 2:44 pm

Slava, I apprehend the gauntlet you have thrown at my feet. En garde!

So, here's my attempt to distinguish apprehend from comprehend, both of which can mean "understand" or "recognize."

Apprehend is the rarer of the two near synonyms, and has a more specialized meaning. When used, it can be more evocative: "Moses apprehended the presence of Yahweh in the burning bush."

As that example demonstrates, "apprehend" can have a tincture of awe, fear or dread which is not suggested when "comprehend" is used.

Apprehend has more of a temporal, or singular, quality. When a person apprehends something, it is akin to a discovery rather than a continuous state: "After Gettysburg, the South apprehended that it would lose the Civil War." But "During Reconstruction, the South comprehended that it would be subject to federal rule until the election of a more pliant president."
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Re: Comprehend

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Apr 23, 2018 4:01 pm

Apprehend seems to me to involve a little more possession and a bit more emotion than comprehend. Both a subtle, but I think palpable. Anyone else?
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Re: Comprehend

Postby Dr. Goodword » Tue Apr 24, 2018 7:46 am

I think apprehend's sense is closer to "catch" in the metaphorical sense of, "I didn't catch that; could you repeat it?". In its metaphorical sense its meaning is closer to "grasp in the moment", whereas comprehend can only mean "understand" in the broadest sense. This explanation aligns with the literal meaning of apprehend as in "to apprehend a criminal".

The difference between understand and comprehend is in the degree of understanding. The former extends more vaguely to the amount of knowledge we have; the latter, more specifically to the completeness of that knowledge.
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