c. 1400, deformen, difformen, "to disfigure, mar the natural form or shape of," from Old French deformer (13c.) and directly from Latin deformare "put out of shape, disfigure," from de (see de-) + formare "to shape, fashion, build," also figurative, from forma "form, contour, figure, shape" (see form (n.)). Related: Deformed; deforming.
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active word-forming element in English and in many verbs inherited from French and Latin, from Latin de "down, down from, from, off; concerning" (see de), also used as a prefix in Latin, usually meaning "down, off, away, from among, down from," but also "down to the bottom, totally" hence "completely" (intensive or completive), which is its sense in many English words.
As a Latin prefix it also had the function of undoing or reversing a verb's action, and hence it came to be used as a pure privative — "not, do the opposite of, undo" — which is its primary function as a living prefix in English, as in defrost (1895), defuse (1943), de-escalate (1964), etc. In some cases, a reduced form of dis-.
From c. 1300 as "physical shape (of something), contour, outline," of a person, "shape of the body;" also "appearance, likeness;" also "the imprint of an object." From c. 1300 as "correct or appropriate way of doing something; established procedure; traditional usage; formal etiquette." Mid-14c. as "instrument for shaping; a mould;" late 14c. as "way in which something is done," also "pattern of a manufactured object." Used widely from late 14c. in theology and Platonic philosophy with senses "archetype of a thing or class; Platonic essence of a thing; the formative principle." From c. 1300 in law, "a legal agreement; terms of agreement," later "a legal document" (mid-14c.). Meaning "a document with blanks to be filled in" is from 1855. From 1590s as "systematic or orderly arrangement;" from 1610s as "mere ceremony." From 1550s as "a class or rank at school" (from sense "a fixed course of study," late 14c.). Form-fitting (adj.) in reference to clothing is from 1893.
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