Friday, August 18, 2006

I Don't Take That Back

The Language Log is not in the habit of leading us astray. But one of the writers has steered the Bush-bashing bandwagon on the wrong course. In a short post Geoffrey K. Pullum does a good job explaining back formation (perhaps better than I have done) but the instance of usage in question is a poorly chosen example. George H W Bush's word "recreate" might not be a back formation if we accept that its source is not recreation minus the -ion, but a different form from French.

Modern English recreation probably did come from Middle English recreacioun which came from Middle (possibly Old) French recreation from the Latin recreatio.

Modern English recreate can be traced to Latin recreat- the stem of recreatus, which is the past participle of recreare. Used to mean "rejuvenate" "relax" or "amuse (oneself)" it has been in use since the 16th century.

Though one can make the claim that it came to George senior as a back formation, I choose to give him the benefit of the doubt (though that might not be prudent) and believe that the word (even when used by a Bush) conforms to an etymology that branched early enough to create both recreate and recreation as distinct and historically legitimate words.

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