Meanings “Read”

April 11, 2012

“Read” is another four letter Anglo Saxon word with a fascinating etymology.  Note that the progress of the word towards modern usage diverges from other Germanic languages:

read Look up read at Dictionary.com
O.E. rædan (W.Saxon), redan (Anglian) “to explain, read, rule, advise” (related to ræd, red “advice”), from P.Gmc. *raedanan (cf. O.N. raða, O.Fris. reda, Du. raden, O.H.G. ratan, Ger. raten “to advise, counsel, guess”), from PIE root *re(i)- “to reason, count” (cf. Skt. radh- “to succeed, accomplish,” Gk. arithmos “number amount,” O.C.S. raditi “to take thought, attend to,” O.Ir. im-radim “to deliberate, consider”). Connected to riddle via notion of “interpret.”

Words from this root in most modern Germanic languages still mean “counsel, advise.” Transference to “understand the meaning of written symbols” is unique to Old English and (perhaps under English influence) Old Norse. raða. Most languages use a word rooted in the idea of “gather up” as their word for “read” (cf. Fr. lire, from L. legere). Sense of “make out the character of (a person)” is attested from 1610s. The noun meaning “an act of reading” is recorded from 1825. Read up “study” is from 1842; read-only in computer jargon is recorded from 1961.

Is reading going out of fashion as some claim?  It hardly seems so:

Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic (the source of this graph) offers some further insight.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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