Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Semantic Drift: "Prevent"

There are some old words that no one uses anymore that I love, but there are even more old words that everyone uses, but uses without the old meanings, and I miss those old meanings.

"Prevent" is a great word that has come to mean only "stop from happening". But it used to mean something more like "came before" or "went around in front of".

You can see it in the King James version of the Bible, in verses like Psalm 79:8: O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low.

The Psalmist is not asking God's mercies to stop him, but rather to go before him. When it comes to etymology, "pre" is obviously "before" and I'm guessing that "vent" means "come" (like the Spanish "venir").

Isn't that a great word? I know there's no real fighting against semantic drift - well, no really fighting-and-winning - but I am tempted when it comes to this word.

Especially because it seems like it would be such a useful word in prayer - just see how many times it's used in the older translations of the Psalms! How many times a day do I want the Lord to prevent me? As many times a day as there are times in a day.

Lord, prevent me as I go. Go before me. Let me abide in your footsteps, moving behind you as you go.

It's a good word.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell


Anonymous said...

Jess - this is so close to the still-used theological term "prevenient" as in "God's prevenient grace": His grace that goes before us and woos us to Himself as in: "while we were yet sinners, Cx died for us". Wesley wrote alot about this. Mom

MomCO3 said...

I like the allusion of vent=wind. That God's Spirit blows before us.
Thanks for this thought!