I took my Harley-dog out for some exercise this morning, so naturally, I had to come back in and research the word.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969) tells us that exercise comes from the Latin exercitium/exercare. The Romans made the word by combining ex-, meaning “out,” and arcere, “enclose, restrain.”

I ran to my New College Latin and English Dictionary, but could not find arcere, or even ercere. Word Nerd fail! Going to the English portion of the book, I discovered that “restrain” in Latin is coercere, which is the base of our English word coerce.

I know, it figures coerce and exercise share their base word, doesn’t it?

[BONUS: The Romans made coercere by combining co- (“together”) with arcere.]

I wonder if the Romans were thinking of, say, boxing drills being done in a ring, or the so-called games taking place in a coliseum when they made exercise?

Or, perhaps, they were thinking ofhow exercise takes your body out of the restraints imposed by obesity and couch-potato living. (Roman couch potatoes? Maybe…)

Alas, no. Nothing so idealistic. My New World College Dictionary explains that combining ex- with arcare had to do with driving animals out of their enclosures to work. The Romans were simplythinking of oxen pulling ploughs.


On a hunch, I just took a trip back into my American Heritage. Park comes from the Old French parc, meaning “enclosure.” They got it from Medieval Latin parricus, so I feel confident in saying it is also at least a cousin to arcere.

On the other hand, parka is an Aleutian word, meaning skin. Sorry. Random dictionary moment.

[BONUS POLITICAL SIDE-TRIP: “The desire to be re-elected exercises a strong brake on independent courage.” –John F. Kennedy, quoted in the American Heritage Dictionary.]

WORD NERD CHALLENGE: Other than park, coerce, and exercise, what words can you come up with from arcere? List ‘em by clicking on “please comment” below this entry.



Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.