Roland wrote, “I’ve been
puzzling over the word protest. If you protest, you are actively and vocally against
something. But I thought that the pro- prefix means for or in favor of. Any help with this?”
You are correct in
noting that pro- normally
signifies being in favor of something (pro-Arab), but it can also mean towards
the front, in public view, forward in time, extended in space, standing in
place of, and is even used in a few archaic terms of relationship (pronephew).
What seems to have
happened is that when French assimilated some Latin terms using the prefix
pro-, the emphasis changed. The second element in the word protest is related to testfy or declare, and it also shows up in words such as attest and contest. A
protestor would push his or her own viewpoint forward, but it was usually the
result of negating or acting against a policy in place. Thus, the latent anti- element began to receive more emphasis.
When the word came into
English, it was first used as a legal term. It was a stipulation meant to
protect the legal rights of the protesting party. It was a reservation or
condition meant to safeguard legal redress, and it brought the idea of
challenge even more to the fore.
So while a protest has
an undeniably positive element, there is also the element of challenge,
dispute, or negation.
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