Sunday, October 16, 2011


Sarah has been reading Ulysses Grant’s Memoirs for a history assignment, and wrote with a question about the following sentence: His problem was to get from Lookout Valley to Chattanooga Valley in the most expeditious way possible. Her question was, “Is expeditious connected in any way to expedition?”

Sarah indicated that she knows that expeditious means with speed and efficiency. And even though some expeditions throughout history were tortuously slow and difficult, the words are related, as are expede, expedite, expedient, and expediency. All of them owe their existence to a Latin word that means, “to free a person’s feet from fetters.”

Their opposites are impede, impedient, impediment, and so on. Those words come from a Latin word that meant, “to shackle a person’s feet.”

One strange word that popped up in the middle of my research because of its connection to foot (-ped-) was expeditate, defined as “to cut off from a dog three claws or the ball of the forefoot; to law.” A wretched practice, indeed, but my eye was caught by “to law.” That was new to me. It turns out that to law means “to mutilate an animal so as to render it incapable of doing mischief.” Fortunately, the practice seems to have died out in the 17th century.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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