"much sought-after, uncommon, rare," 1722, from French recherché "carefully sought out," past-participle adjective from rechercher "to seek out" (12c.), from re-, here perhaps suggesting repeated activity (see re-) + chercher "to search," from Latin circare, in Late Latin "to wander hither and thither," from circus "circle" (see circus). Commonly used 19c. of food, styles, etc., to denote obscure excellence. "Àla recherchedu temps perdu" is the title of Proust's great novel of reminiscence (1913).
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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]
late 14c., in reference to the large, oblong, unroofed enclosures used for races, etc., in ancient Rome, from Latin circus "ring, circular line," which was applied by Romans to circular arenas for performances and contests and oval courses for racing (especially the Circus Maximus), from or cognate with Greek kirkos "a circle, a ring," perhaps from PIE *kikro-, reduplicated form of root *sker- (2) "to turn, bend." The adjective form is circensian.
In reference to modern large arenas for performances of feats of horsemanship, acrobatics, etc., from 1791, sense then extended to the performing company itself and the entertainment given, hence "traveling show" (originally traveling circus, 1838). Extended in World War I to squadrons of military aircraft. Meaning "lively uproar, chaotic hubbub" is from 1869.
Sense in Picadilly Circus and other place names is from early 18c. sense "buildings arranged in a ring," also "circular road."
also *ker-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to turn, bend."
It forms all or part of: arrange; circa; circadian; circle; circuit; circum-; circumcision; circumflex; circumnavigate; circumscribe; circumspect; circumstance; circus; cirque; corona; crepe; crest; crinoline; crisp; crown; curb; curvature; curve; derange; flounce (n.) "deep ruffle on the skirt of a dress;" krone; ring (n.1) "circular band;" ranch; range; ranger; rank (n.) "row, line series;" research; recherche; ridge; rink; rucksack; search; shrink.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Latin curvus "bent, curved," crispus "curly;" Old Church Slavonic kragu "circle;" perhaps Greek kirkos "ring," koronos "curved;" Old English hring "ring, small circlet."
updated on May 19, 2021