Etymology
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smother (v.)

c. 1200, "to suffocate with smoke," from smother (n.), earlier smorthre "dense, suffocating smoke" (late 12c.), from stem of Old English smorian "to suffocate, choke, strangle, stifle," cognate with Middle Dutch smoren, German schmoren; possibly connected to smolder. Meaning "to kill by suffocation in any manner" is from 1540s; sense of "to extinguish a fire" is from 1590s. Sense of "stifle, repress" is first recorded 1570s; meaning "to cover thickly (with some substance)" is from 1590s. Related: Smothered; smothering.

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stifle (v.)

late 14c., "to choke, suffocate, drown," of uncertain origin, possibly an alteration of Old French estouffer "to stifle, smother" (Modern French étouffer), itself of uncertain etymology, perhaps from a Germanic source (compare Old High German stopfon "to plug up, stuff"). Metaphoric sense is from 1570s. Related: Stifled; stifling.

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suffocate (v.)

early 15c. (transitive), "deprive of air, choke, kill by preventing access of air to the lungs," also figurative, "stifle, smother, extinguish," from Latin suffocatus, past participle of suffocare "to choke" (see suffocation). Intransitive use, "become choked, stifled, or smothered," is from 1702. Related: Suffocated; suffocating.

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smolder (v.)

c. 1300 (implied in smoldering), "to smother, suffocate," related to Middle Dutch smolen, Low German smelen, Flemish smoel "hot," from Proto-Germanic *smel-, *smul-. The intransitive meaning "burn and smoke without flame" is first recorded 1520s, fell from use 17c. (though smoldering persisted in poetry) and was revived 19c. Figurative sense "exist in a suppressed state; burn inwardly" is from 1810. Related: Smouldered; smolderingly. Middle English also had a noun smolder meaning "smoky vapor, a stifling smoke."

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oppress (v.)

late 14c., oppressen, "to press unduly upon or against, overburden, weigh down," also figuratively, "overwhelm overpower" (of sickness, grief, etc.); also "burden with cruel, unjust, or unreasonable restraints, treat with injustice or undue severity, keep down by an unjust exercise of power," from Old French opresser "oppress, afflict; torment, smother" (13c.), from Medieval Latin oppressare, frequentative of Latin opprimere "press against, press together, press down;" figuratively "crush, put down, subdue, prosecute relentlessly" (in Late Latin "to rape"), from assimilated form of ob "against" (see ob-) + premere "to press, hold fast, cover, crowd, compress" (from PIE root *per- (4) "to strike"). In Middle English also "to rape." Related: Oppressed; oppressing.

It is the due [external] restraint and not the moderation of rulers that constitutes a state of liberty; as the power to oppress, though never exercised, does a state of slavery. [St. George Tucker, "View of the Constitution of the United States," 1803]
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