early 14c., rebuken, "to reprimand, reprove directly and pointedly; chide, scold," from Anglo-French rebuker "to repel, beat back," Old French rebuchier, from re- "back" (see re-) + buschier "to strike, chop wood," from busche (French bûche) "wood," from a West Germanic *busk "bush, thicket" (see bush (n.)). Related: Rebuked; rebuking; rebukingly.
early 15c., "a reproof for fault or wrong, a direct reprimand," also "an insult, a rebuff," and in the now archaic sense of "a shame, disgrace," from rebuke (v.). From mid-15c. as "a setback, a defeat."
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word-forming element meaning "back, back from, back to the original place;" also "again, anew, once more," also conveying the notion of "undoing" or "backward," etc. (see sense evolution below), c. 1200, from Old French re- and directly from Latin re- an inseparable prefix meaning "again; back; anew, against."
Watkins (2000) describes this as a "Latin combining form conceivably from Indo-European *wret-, metathetical variant of *wert- "to turn." De Vaan says the "only acceptable etymology" for it is a 2004 explanation which reconstructs a root in PIE *ure "back."
In earliest Latin the prefix became red- before vowels and h-, a form preserved in redact, redeem, redolent, redundant, redintegrate, and, in disguise, render (v.). In some English words from French and Italian re- appears as ra- and the following consonant is often doubled (see rally (v.1)).
The many meanings in the notion of "back" give re- its broad sense-range: "a turning back; opposition; restoration to a former state; "transition to an opposite state." From the extended senses in "again," re- becomes "repetition of an action," and in this sense it is extremely common as a formative element in English, applicable to any verb. OED writes that it is "impossible to attempt a complete record of all the forms resulting from its use," and adds that "The number of these is practically infinite ...."
Often merely intensive, and in many of the older borrowings from French and Latin the precise sense of re- is forgotten, lost in secondary senses, or weakened beyond recognition, so that it has no apparent semantic content (receive, recommend, recover, reduce, recreate, refer, religion, remain, request, require). There seem to have been more such words in Middle English than after, e.g. recomfort (v.) "to comfort, console; encourage;" recourse (n.) "a process, way, course." Recover in Middle English also could mean "obtain, win" (happiness, a kingdom, etc.) with no notion of getting something back, also "gain the upper hand, overcome; arrive at;" also consider the legal sense of recovery as "obtain (property) by judgment or legal proceedings."
And, due to sound changes and accent shifts, re- sometimes entirely loses its identity as a prefix (rebel, relic, remnant, restive, rest (n.2) "remainder," rally (v.1) "bring together"). In a few words it is reduced to r-, as in ransom (a doublet of redemption), rampart, etc.
Prefixed to a word beginning with e, re- is separated by a hyphen, as re-establish, re-estate, re-edify, etc. ; or else the second e has a dieresis over it: as, reëstablish, reëmbark, etc. The hyphen is also sometimes used to bring out emphatically the sense of repetition or iteration : as, sung and re-sung. The dieresis is not used over other vowels than e when re is prefixed : thus, reinforce, reunite, reabolish. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
"many-stemmed woody plant," from Old English bysc (found in place names), from West Germanic *busk "bush, thicket" (source also of Old Saxon and Old High German busc, Dutch bosch, bos, German Busch). Influenced by or combined with Old French (busche "firewood") and Medieval Latin busca (source also of Italian bosco, Spanish bosque, French bois), both of which probably are from Germanic (compare Boise).
In the British American colonies, applied from 1650s to the uncleared districts. In South Africa, "country," as opposed to town (1780); probably from Dutch bosch in the same sense. As "branch of a tree hung out as a tavern-sign," 1530s; hence the proverb "good wine needs no bush." The meaning "pubic hair" (especially of a woman) is from 1745.
To beat the bushes (mid-15c.) is a way to rouse birds so that they fly into the net which others are holding, which originally was the same thing as beating around the bush (see beat (v.)).
updated on October 13, 2022