Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

My colleague Kathey has been on the trail again. This time she was working with a student on the orthography of the math operation <division>.

The first thing they noticed was that the word <divide> and <division> appear to have twin bases: <vide /vise>. This suggested these word sums to them:

<di + vide → divide>     <di + vise/ + ion → division>

And as they constructed more and more words from these two bases they discovered a word sum with an “ending” that they weren't sure was really a suffix.

<dividend →  di + vide/ + end>

“I have never heard of a suffix <-end>,” Kathy wrote to me. She even wondered, if <-end> was not the suffix, whether <-nd> were the suffix. Again the word searcher did not give her any words that she could analyse as having a suffix <-nd>.

“I also know that this cannot be a compound word (divide + end),” she continued, “or the final <e> in <divide> would not have been dropped.”

Kathy told me that they had tried looking for other words with final <-end>.  “The word searcher did not yield any words that appeared to have a suffix <-end>.”

They tried Etymonline, whose entry is this.




This is what she picked up from this entry: “I see the M.Fr word <dividende> or L. <dividendum>  ...  I still don't see the word sum unless <dividend> is a shortened version of <dividendum>.”

Kathy looked for other words ending <endum>, which yielded two: <addendum> and <referendum>.

<add + endum → addendum>   <re + fer + endum → referendum>

“I know that <-en> is a suffix,” wrote Kathy, “but I have never heard of <-dum> as a suffix.

<di + vide/ + en + dum??

 So my idea  is that <dividend> is a clipped version of <dividendum>. Does that make sense?”

Well, Kathy, it does - sort of!

Here are some extracts from my response to Kathy.



Congratulations, Kathy!

Well done to you and your student for identifying the twin base element <vide / vise>.

You comment that Word Searcher did not yield any words that appeared to have a suffix <-end>. If you look again, however, you’ll see that lurking in the search results for <end$> are <legend> and <reverend>. 

There's more on these two words shortly; we have a couple precisions to make first, for which the crucial evidence that you needed is in the very Etymonline entry that you cited. Here it is again, with my annotation.




References such as Etymonline assume that its users have at least a basic knowledge of grammatical terminology, and that - in these days of accelerating dumbing down of schooling - is already scarce at best and simply absent generally.

But rejoice! Henceforth you know the term "gerundive"!

The Latin gerundive suffix had two forms. 

  • <-and(um)> for first conjugation verbs (those whose infinitive suffix was <-are>);
  • <-end(um)> for verbs in the other conjugations.

So, for instance:

  • <amanda> is "she who must be loved"
  • <memoranda> "things that must be remembered"
  • <agenda> "things that must be acted upon"
  • <addendum> "thing/matter that must be added",
  • <corrigenda> "things that must be corrected". 

So, <legend → lege/ end> is "something to be read"> and <reverend> applies to "one who is to be revered".

Here are more derivations that contain the suffix <-end> that you should investigate. 

<tremendous>   <horrendous>   <stupendous>

So when you say that your idea is that <dividend> is a clipped version of <dividendum> you are almost there, and nicely sniffed out!

What you need, though, is what your schooling has denied your generation and those that follow - a basic knowldge of Latin word structure. In this case it is the matter of inflectional grammatical suffixes of which <-um> is just one.

You do actually know this inflectional grammatical suffix <-um> from such Latin loan words as:

<stratum>, <datum>, <medium> and <curriculum>

(Their corresponding plurals are, of course: <strata>, <data>, <media> and <curricula>.) 

In English derivatives, such inflectional grammatical suffixes are represented (rarely) by final non-syllabic <e> or, usually, by nothing at all: hence <dividendum → divide/ + end + (um) → dividend>.

So <dividend> is not actually a ‘clip’; it's a derivation from a Latin root.


*** But ... There is one more signal in your cited Etymonline entry that you missed: "see divide".

If you had followed that lead, you would have discovered that it has absolutely nothing to do with the family of the twin base element <vide / vise> "see"! That, then, must be your next task - and prepare to be delightfully surprised!

Who knows? After that investigation you and your student might even be able to determine the meaning of these splendid words.

<vidual>   <viduous>  <viduage>

Real spelling is good for you: it cultivates and reinforces your individuality!




Here’s an extract from Kathy’s response that has just dropped in my  mail box. 

This is a great explanation for what I was trying to understand. It also includes helpful knowledge that I have never had before!



Pete, who taught me to ask "what does it mean", would remind me that <divide> has nothing to do with <see> but instead brings to mind the idea of “separate”.

At first I thought you were telling me that the base is <divide>, not <vide>, which makes sense because <vide> <vise> means “see” !


When I followed your advice and looked up <divide> SURPRISE!!!  Latin homophonic twin bases!! WHAT FUN!

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet