Monday, August 18, 2008

The king's not the thing

When the word "reify" popped up recently on a "Word of the Day" application I have, I was sure I could guess the definition. I knew what "deify" (from Latin deus, god) meant, and I thought for certain that "reify" must be from Latin rex, king---and thus probably meant "to crown as king" or "to treat as a king".

Actually, the root is not rex but res, a delightful word whose brevity belies its multitude of meanings. I learned its translation in first-year Latin as "thing, matter, or affair" but never really understood it until I encountered it in contexts like res publica or in medias res. And so, in fact, "reify" has nothing to do with kings but means "to convert into or regard as a concrete thing, e.g. to reify a concept".

Incidentally, the above-mentioned application from Merriam-Webster is pretty cool. It not only gives you a word's definition, but also a sample sentence and an interesting fact. Even when I'm already familiar with the word of the day, I usually end up learning something.


Doug said...

Good word. In my writing I likely would 'realize a concept'. Do you suppose reify and realize are related?

Language Lover said...

"Related" in the sense of both having the root res, if that's what you mean. The etymological path for realize is a little more tortuous; you can trace it with any English dictionary.