April 2 , 2021 /


We have recently been inundated with words like reinvent, reimagine, reform, redesign all with good intentions.

The prefix re-, which means “back” or “again,” appears in hundreds of English vocabulary words, for example: reject, regenerate, and revert. The prefix re, when it is a prefix- means “back” via the word return, or turn “back;” to remember that re– means “again” consider rearrange, or arrange “again.”

There is a small family of words that are visibly related (recline, decline, incline in this case), but no native speaker without schooling in Latin or etymology could assign any meaning or purpose to the parts. There’s no word ‘cline’, which makes this case easy; but in others the etymological prefix doesn’t have its English meaning or function. You can take ‘re’ off ‘remember’ to get an English word, but the combination ‘re + member’ makes no sense in English unless to mean literally to put the members back together. Looking at the etymology of remember, we see this: Middle English: from Old French remembrer, from late Latin rememorari ‘call to mind’, from re- (expressing intensive force) + Latin memor ‘mindful’.  I like the definition of remember as “not forgetting.”  That may be related to my remembering the Greek word for reminiscence which is anamnesis, loosely translated as against amnesia.

Resign’ can be split, but the two parts don’t add up to the meaning; in fact you can add the prefix to ‘sign’ to get the word ‘re-sign’, with a completely different meaning. It makes a big difference whether all the members of the team have resigned or re-signed. The prefix is pronounced with a more distinct vowel.

I remember the first time I heard the word reinsurance and wondered what it was and how it worked.  What I learned was that that reinsurance is insurance for insurance companies. Reinsurance is the mechanism that insurance companies use to lower their risk or reduce their exposure to a specific catastrophic event.  Spreading the loss or sharing it with others mitigates the damage to one company.   Wonder if that would work with people?

My objection to the prefix may stem from some kind of negative association with repairing instead of replacing. It might be better to get a new tire than to repair an old one.  On the other hand, when expense is a major concern, repairing and reusing becomes a prime consideration.  I think my therapist said I was coming from a place of scarcity rather than abundance.  OK, I’ll explore that further again, later. Should we repair the infrastructure or replace it with better?

What I’ve said previously to friends and colleagues is why not imagine instead of reimagine?  John Lennon had it right.  Instead of reinvent, how about inventing something new? I am in favor of adaptive reuse for buildings if it makes sense from both a practical and an economic view.  There is sometimes an opportunity to restore something aesthetically beautiful for its historic and artistic qualities.  Not remodel, but restore close to its original design.  Maybe remove the more up to date systems out of sight.  And this. Retire can mean either time to get new tires or go to bed.  That said, most people think erroneously that retiring means stopping.

Next we can return to consider repairing and restoring ourselves as sentient human beings. Never mind return, let’s turn our attention to that worthy cause.


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