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.

Blessings,

Voni

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