word-forming element of Latin origin meaning 1. "lack of, not" (as in dishonest); 2. "opposite of, do the opposite of" (as in disallow); 3. "apart, away" (as in discard), from Old French des- or directly from Latin dis- "apart, asunder, in a different direction, between," figuratively "not, un-," also "exceedingly, utterly." Assimilated as dif- before -f- and to di- before most voiced consonants.
The Latin prefix is from PIE *dis- "apart, asunder" (source also of Old English te-, Old Saxon ti-, Old High German ze-, German zer-). The PIE root is a secondary form of *dwis- and thus is related to Latin bis "twice" (originally *dvis) and to duo, on notion of "two ways, in twain" (hence "apart, asunder").
In classical Latin, dis- paralleled de- and had much the same meaning, but in Late Latin dis- came to be the favored form and this passed into Old French as des-, the form used for compound words formed in Old French, where it increasingly had a privative sense ("not"). In English, many of these words eventually were altered back to dis-, while in French many have been altered back to de-. The usual confusion prevails.
As a living prefix in English, it reverses or negatives what it is affixed to. Sometimes, as in Italian, it is reduced to s- (as in spend, splay, sport, sdain for disdain, and the surnames Spencer and Spence).
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to draw, stretch, spin."
It forms all or part of: append; appendix; avoirdupois; compendium; compensate; compensation; counterpoise; depend; dispense; equipoise; expend; expense; expensive; hydroponics; impend; painter (n.2) "rope or chain that holds an anchor to a ship's side;" pansy; penchant; pend; pendant; pendentive; pending; pendular; pendulous; pendulum; pension; pensive; penthouse; perpendicular; peso; poise; ponder; ponderous; pound (n.1) "measure of weight;" prepend; prepense; preponderate; propensity; recompense; span (n.1) "distance between two objects;" span (n.2) "two animals driven together;" spangle; spanner; spend; spider; spin; spindle; spinner; spinster; stipend; suspend; suspension.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Latin pendere "to hang, to cause to hang," pondus "weight" (perhaps the notion is the weight of a thing measured by how much it stretches a cord), pensare "to weigh, consider;" Greek ponos "toil," ponein "to toil;" Lithuanian spendžiu, spęsti "lay a snare;" Old Church Slavonic peti "stretch, strain," pato "fetter," pina "I span;" Old English spinnan "to spin," spannan "to join, fasten; stretch, span;" Armenian henum "I weave;" Greek patos "garment," literally "that which is spun;" Lithuanian pinu "I plait, braid," spandau "I spin;" Middle Welsh cy-ffiniden "spider;" Old English spinnan "draw out and twist fibers into thread," spiðra "spider," literally "spinner."