a sound represented in Old English by -sc- (fisc "fish"), which originally was pronounced "-sk-" but which by late Old English had softened to "-sh-." Modern English words with -sc- mostly are imports (generally Scandinavian).
The "sh" sound did not exist in Old French, therefore French scribes in England after the Norman conquest often represented it with -ssh- in medial and final positions, and sch- in initial positions (schape, schamful, schaft for shape, shameful, shaft). But the spelling -sh- has been standard since Caxton, probably as a worn-down form of Middle English -sch-.
In some East Anglian texts from 14c.-15c., x- is used (xal, xulde for shall, should), which would have given the language a very different look had it prevailed, but the London-based sh- ended up as the standard form. The same Germanic sound has become, by natural evolution, modern German and Dutch sch-, Scandinavian sk-.
word-forming element of Greek origin meaning "against, opposed to, opposite of, instead," shortened to ant- before vowels and -h-, from Old French anti- and directly from Latin anti-, from Greek anti (prep.) "over, against, opposite; instead, in the place of; as good as; at the price of; for the sake of; compared with; in opposition to; in return; counter-," from PIE *anti "against," also "in front of, before" (from root *ant- "front, forehead," with derivatives meaning "in front of, before"), which became anti- in Italian (hence antipasto) and French.
It is cognate with Sanskrit anti "over, against," and Old English and- (the first element in answer). A common compounding element in Greek, in some combinations it became anth- for euphonic reasons. It appears in some words in Middle English but was not commonly used in English word formations until modern times. In a few English words (anticipate, antique) it represents Latin ante.
In noun compounds where it has the sense of "opposed to, opposite" (Antichrist, anti-communist) the accent remains on the anti-; in adjectives where it retains its old prepositional sense "against, opposed to," the accent remains on the other element (anti-Christian, anti-slavery).
word-forming element of Greek origin meaning 1. "after, behind; among, between," 2. "changed, altered," 3. "higher, beyond;" from Greek meta (prep.) "in the midst of; in common with; by means of; between; in pursuit or quest of; after, next after, behind," in compounds most often meaning "change" of place, condition, etc. This is from PIE *me- "in the middle" (source also of German mit, Gothic miþ, Old English mið "with, together with, among").
The notion of "changing places with" probably led to the senses of "change of place, order, or nature," which was a principal meaning of the Greek word when used as a prefix (but it also denoted "community, participation; in common with; pursuing").
The third, modern, sense, "higher than, transcending, overarching, dealing with the most fundamental matters of," is due to misinterpretation of metaphysics (q.v.) as "science of that which transcends the physical." This has led to a prodigious erroneous extension in modern usage, with meta- affixed to the names of other sciences and disciplines, especially in the academic jargon of literary criticism: Metalanguage (1936) "a language which supplies terms for the analysis of an 'object' language;" metalinguistics (by 1949); metahistory (1957), metacommunication, etc.
word-forming element expressing direction toward or in addition to, from Latin ad "to, toward" in space or time; "with regard to, in relation to," as a prefix, sometimes merely emphatic, from PIE root *ad- "to, near, at."
Simplified to a- before sc-, sp- and st-; modified to ac- before many consonants and then re-spelled af-, ag-, al-, etc., in conformity with the following consonant (as in affection, aggression). Also compare ap- (1).
In Old French, reduced to a- in all cases (an evolution already underway in Merovingian Latin), but French refashioned its written forms on the Latin model in 14c., and English did likewise 15c. in words it had picked up from Old French. In many cases pronunciation followed the shift.
Over-correction at the end of the Middle Ages in French and then English "restored" the -d- or a doubled consonant to some words that never had it (accursed, afford). The process went further in England than in France (where the vernacular sometimes resisted the pedantic), resulting in English adjourn, advance, address, advertisement (Modern French ajourner, avancer, adresser, avertissement). In modern word-formation sometimes ad- and ab- are regarded as opposites, but this was not in classical Latin.
prefix of negation, Old English un-, from Proto-Germanic *un- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Old High German, German un-, Gothic un-, Dutch on-), from PIE *n- (source of Sanskrit a-, an- "not," Greek a-, an-, Old Irish an-, Latin in-), combining form of PIE root *ne- "not." Often euphemistic (such as untruth for "lie").
The most prolific of English prefixes, freely and widely used in Old English, where it forms more than 1,000 compounds. It underwent a mass extinction in early Middle English, but emerged with renewed vigor 16c. to form compounds with native and imported words. It disputes with Latin-derived cognate in- (1) the right to form the negation of certain words (indigestable/undigestable, etc.), and though both might be deployed in cooperation to indicate shades of meaning (unfamous/infamous), typically they are not.
It also makes words from phrases (such as uncalled-for, c. 1600; undreamed-of, 1630s; uncome-at-able, 1690s; unputdownable, 1947, of a book; un-in-one-breath-utterable, Ben Jonson; etc., but the habit is not restricted to un-; such as put-up-able-with, 1812). As a prefix in telegramese to replace not and save the cost of a word, it is attested by 1936.
prefix or inseparable particle, a conglomerate of various Germanic and Latin elements.
In words derived from Old English, it commonly represents Old English an "on, in, into" (see on (prep.)), as in alive, above, asleep, aback, abroad, afoot, ashore, ahead, abed, aside, obsolete arank "in rank and file," etc., forming adjectives and adverbs from nouns, with the notion "in, at; engaged in." In this use it is identical to a (2).
It also can represent Middle English of (prep.) "off, from," as in anew, afresh, akin, abreast. Or it can be a reduced form of the Old English past participle prefix ge-, as in aware.
Or it can be the Old English intensive a-, originally ar- (cognate with German er- and probably implying originally "motion away from"), as in abide, arise, awake, ashamed, marking a verb as momentary, a single event. Such words sometimes were refashioned in early modern English as though the prefix were Latin (accursed, allay, affright are examples).
In words from Romanic languages, often it represents reduced forms of Latin ad "to, toward; for" (see ad-), or ab "from, away, off" (see ab-); both of which by about 7c. had been reduced to a in the ancestor of Old French. In a few cases it represents Latin ex.
[I]t naturally happened that all these a- prefixes were at length confusedly lumped together in idea, and the resultant a- looked upon as vaguely intensive, rhetorical, euphonic, or even archaic, and wholly otiose. [OED]