Printable Version
Pronunciation: ee-mêr-jên-si Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A serious situation emerging suddenly and unexpectedly, that demands immediate response.

Notes: This word obviously originates in the verb emerge. Word History will explain how its meaning came to diverge so much from its verb of origin. Semantically, it is a lexical orphan, unrelated to all other derivations from emerge: emergent and emergence. Both these words have a transparent relationship to the verb.

In Play: Emergencies, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder: "For Esmerelda's teenage daughters every broken nail, scratch or bruise is a medical emergency." The noun itself may be used as an adjective: "Herman's frequent bouts of indigestion require emergency medical assistance lest one turns out to be a heart attack."

Word History: English obtained today's word from Middle French émergence "surfacing, emerging", based on émergent, the present participle of the verb emerger "to surface, emerge". French inherited this word from Latin emergere "to bob up, arise", comprising an assimilated form of ex "out (of)" + mergere "to dip, sink". Mergere was probably rhotacized ([s/z] turning to [r]) from mezgere, from PIE mezg- "to dip, plunge", source also of Sanskrit majjati "dives under" and Lithuanian mazgoti "to wash". So, the word was associated with sudden movement in water. Adding the preposition ex makes it "bob out of water". From there it moved in the 17th century to appearing suddenly from concealment, and leaving it only a hop, skip, and a jump from its current English meaning. (Gratitude is due Joakim Larsson, frequent contributor from Sweden, whose keen eye spotted the inconsistency between the verb emerge and the noun emergency.)

Dr. Goodword,

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