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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).
"famous deed, exploit," more commonly "story of great deeds, tale of adventure," c. 1300, from Old French geste, jeste "action, exploit, romance, history" (of celebrated people or actions), from Medieval Latin gesta "actions, exploits, deeds, achievements," noun use of neuter plural of Latin gestus, past participle of gerere "to carry on, wage, perform," which de Vaan says is considered to be from the same root as agere "to set in motion, drive forward, do, perform" (from PIE root *ag- "to drive, draw out or forth, move"). Now only as a deliberate archaism. Jest (n.) is the same word, with a decayed sense.
updated on October 13, 2021